Acupuncture, as an important and unique part of traditional Chinese medicine, has played a major role in the health care of the Chinese people, occupying a significant place in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. This can be seen from the following four points:
- Acupuncture is one of the earliest healing arts in China:
In ancient China, three legendary characters have been regarded as the founders of Chinese medicine. The earliest is Fu Xi, also called Bao Xi, a legendary tribe leader who was believed to have made many innovations, such as the production of nine kinds of needles.
The second is Shen Nong, the Divine Husbandry Man, who was said to have taught the art of husbandry, and discovered the curative virtues of herbs by tasting a hundred different varieties.
The third is Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, who was said to have discussed medicine, including acupuncture, with his ministers and who, like Fu Xi, was credited with having made nine kinds of needles.
- Acupuncture is an officially recognised special branch of Chinese Medicine
From the 3rd Century AD onwards, acupuncture became a more specialised discipline in China with many outstanding specialists, and numerous valuable books devoted exclusively to acupuncture.
The first extant book devoted exclusively to acupuncture is the Zhenjiu Jiayi Jing (A Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion) compiled by Huangfu Mi (214-282) between 259 and 260.
In this book, the name and number of points of each Channel and their exact locations are defined and systematised, and the properties and indications of each point and the methods of needling are presented in great detail. The acupoints of the four limbs are arranged according to the Three Yin and Three Yang Channels of the feet and hands. The number of acupoints is increased from the 295 listed in the Neijing to 349.
- Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese Medicine with deep and vital roots
In the early 17th Century a trend appeared among quite a few scholarly doctors whereby acupuncture, together with surgery, was regarded as an insignificant and petty skill that was inferior to herbal medicine.
In 1822 Emperor Dao Guang, in the second year after ascending his throne, issued an imperial edict stating that acupuncture and moxibustion were not suitable forms of treatment for a monarch, and should be banned forever from the Imperial Medical Academy. Although the ban was limited to the court, by the second half of the 19th Century the general study and practice of acupuncture was at a low ebb.
By this stage, however, acupuncture and moxibustion had already arrived in Europe and the West. It was first introduced through reports by Jesuits in the 17th Century. In England, James Morris Churchill began to use acupuncture for pain control and Sir William Osler recommended the use of acupuncture in the treatment of lumbago.
Over the past 50 years in China, acupuncture, together with the whole system of traditional Chinese medicine, has been designated a national cultural heritage. Since the 1950s Chinese official policy has been to encourage the study of traditional Chinese medicine and the integration of the two medica systems, traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine.
Looking back on the long history of Chinese medicine, we see that the decline of acupuncture was temporary and short lived. As a well tried branch of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture roots are deep and vital.