Oriental Medicine and Health Services


The History of Acupuncture

The following is a brief overview and is not meant to be exhaustive.


The Stone Age

  • Bian shi - sharpened stones were used for acupuncture
    • these bian shi date back to 3000 BCE
    • Bloodletting may have been a precursor to acupuncture 
  • Evidence shows the use of bone fragments, fish bones, and bamboo for needles as well
  • With the Bronze Age came bronze needles, but the stone needles were still the most widely used

475 BCE-24 CE

  • the feudal system in China was established and strengthened
  • With it, came iron weapons
  • Stone needles were then replaced with iron needles
  • Gold and silver needles were also used, but to a lesser extent

Ancient Texts

  • The writing for "acupuncture" was found on bone and tortoise shell inscriptions from 1800 BCE
  • Several historical texts from the 4th and 5th centuries BCE make mention of acupuncture
  • The Mawangdui medical manuscripts from the 3rd century BCE detail the acupuncture meridians, but make no mention of actual needling
  • Huangdi's Internal Classic - around 250 BCE
    • The first and most famous text detailing Chinese medical theory
    • Acupuncture points, types of needles, needling techniques, and treatments are all detailed
  • Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion - 260 CE
    • This text is comprised of 12 volumes detailing 349 acupuncture points
    • It is a complete clinical manual / textbook

The Bronze Man

  • Wang Weiyi (987-1067 CE) wrote The Illustrated Manual on Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion which included the descriptions of 657 points
  • He also cast two bronze statues on which meridians and points were engraved for teaching purposes

Ming Dynasty - 1368-1644 CE

  • This time period is considered the climax of Chinese medical theory and acupuncture
  • Extensive collections and revisions of were made of existing literature

Qing Dynasty - 1644-1911 CE

  • For varioius reasons, including politics, herbal medicine was regarded as superior to acupuncture
  • In 1822, acupuncture was banned from the Imperial Medical College

Chinese Nationalist Party

  • After 1911, traditional medicine in China was discouraged and Western Biomedicine was introduced
  • Acupuncture remained popular among the common folk, and the "barefoot doctors" emerged

The People's Republic of China

  • In 1950, Chairman Mao Zedong adopted policies that revitalized acupuncture and traditional medicine in China
  • A review of important medical texts was done which led to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine)
  • From 1970 to today China has paved the way with extensive scientific research on Acupuncture

Acupuncture in Europe

  • The first European acupuncture publication was published in 1658 in Holland by the Dutch doctor Jakob de Bondt
  • European acupuncture then developed independently from that in China
  • Electro-acupuncture and auricular-acupuncture were pioneered in Europe and then later adopted in China

Acupuncture in the USA

  • In 1826 in the USA, the first acupuncture publication was by Bache Franklin M.D., great grandson of Benjamin Franklin
  • After the 1920's, acupuncture was very rare outside of Chinatowns
  • In 1971, NY Times reporter James Reston had surgery with acupuncture anesthesia and also post-op pain relief by Acupuncture. This brought much publicity to acupuncture
  • The first Chinese Medical Schools appeared in the 1970s, and now there are over 40 such accredited colleges
  • In 1996, acupuncture needles were changed from the "investigative" category to accepted medical instruments by the FDA
  • In 1997, The National Institutes of Health issued the Consensus Statement that recognized that "Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States" and "may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program."