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History of Acupuncture

The origins of acupuncture are over 5,000 years old and was practiced beyond the borders of China. An Egyptian treatise from 1550 Before Common Era (BCE) called the Papyrus Ebera refers to vessels that resemble the 12 meridians. South African Bantu tribesman scratched parts of their bodies to cure disease, while Arabs cauterized their ears with hot metal probes. Inuits used sharp stones for tattoos that seem to relate to acupuncture meridians, and Brazilian cannibals shot tiny arrows with blowpipes into diseased parts of their bodies to bring about healing.

In Asia, sharp stones were later replaced by bones, bamboo, and various metal needles. Today, acupuncturists use sterile, very fine, hair-thin needles made from stainless steel. These are used only once and then disposed.

The earliest surviving acupuncture book, Huang Di Nei Jing (the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), is a collection of medical treatises from 400-260 BCE. Formatted as a dialog between Emperor Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor) and the court doctor, Qi Bo, the book discusses the relationship between humans and nature, the elements, causes and cures for disease, the importance of yin and yang balance, acupuncture and moxibustion. Numerous famous clinicians have left their indelible contributions to the field of Classical Chinese Medicine. One of the earliest major acupuncturists was Hua Tuo (110-207 BCE) who lived during the Eastern Han dynasty during the period of the Three Kingdoms. He pioneered acupuncture for anesthesia, surgery, and taught Qi Gong exercises to sustain health.

Huang Fu Mi (214-282 BCE), wrote Zhenjiu Jia Yi Jing (the Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Therapy). This was the first major compilation of major texts where acupuncture techniques, theories, and definitions were streamlined.

Sun Si Miao (581-682 BCE) was a Taoist physician who lived during the Sui and Tang Dynasty. Widely revered as an expert in acupuncture, herbology, and dietary therapy, he was also admired for his dedication to treat common people and the poor. Sun Simiao encouraged his colleagues to uphold a high standard of ethical practice and public service. He promoted moderate diet and lifestyle, exercise, and good hygiene for disease prevention.


Modern Acupuncture

Acupuncture and Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) flourished in China from ancient times until 1932 when Chiang Kaishek came to power. He prioritized western medicine in China and attempted to ban traditional medicine in the cities in an effort to modernize the country. When Mao Zedong became Chairman of the communist party of China, in 1945, the doors to China were closed to the West. There was great need for health care during famine and hardship, and the people demanded protection of traditional medicine. The Communist party government standardized acupuncture and herbal medicine into what is now known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Europe was introduced to acupuncture from Vietnam. The French sparked interest in the West with the works of Dr. Nogier who produced a great deal of research on ear acupuncture from 1951 to 1996. Today, ear acupuncture is widely used to treat addiction and to compliment body acupuncture. Dr. Nogier died in 1996 and his works have recently been published for the first time in English. In Europe, Asian medical research is very active and quite advanced. France, Spain, Germany, Austria, England, Italy, and Canada all have very strong and active acupuncture centers.

In 1971 President Nixon opened the doors to China. James Reston, a New York Times journalist in China at the time, underwent an emergency appendectomy and also received acupuncture after surgery to aid his recovery. Other journalists witnessed surgical removal of a brain tumor, a tubercular lung, and a thyroidectomy performed with acupuncture anesthesia. These reports brought renewed interest to this form of treatment.

Today, China, Taiwan and other Asian countries play leading roles in developing and researching TCM. Some 232,000 TCM doctors practice in China, where 50 institutes produce 30,000 new practitioners annually. Korea developed very effective hand acupuncture, which compliments other acupuncture modalities. Japan has developed systems of abdominal diagnostic techniques and has improved the technology related to acupuncture needles and tools. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has revealed research done behind the iron curtain that contributes to sonic and reflexology treatments today.

As you can see, acupuncture is practiced worldwide. In the United States more and more practitioners are developing knowledge and skills in acupuncture. Many are incorporating modalities from various other countries, using hand, ear, scalp, Chinese, Japanese, Korean acupuncture along with Russian reflexology. The use can be accessed by many cultures with its high efficacy, low adverse-effects, and the relatively minimal cost of treatment compared with conventional drug and surgical therapy. In Chinese integrative hospitals, acupuncture is used to reduce the dosage of anesthetics and aid in recovery.

In the U.S. there are a growing number of professional acupuncturists. Most states require state and/or national licensing. In California, the current Master’s Degree in TCM is awarded after completing a four-year professional school curriculum of 3200 credit hours. Licensure requires a rigorous exam administered by the California Acupuncture Board under the Department of Consumer Affairs.

There is growing interest among western medical doctors to learn and practice acupuncture with about 200 hours of training required by most states. About 25 percent of these physicians work in pain centers around the country. In recent years, due to increased demand and usage from the U.S. population, the National Institute of Health (NIH) formed the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) to provide funding and research.