Chengdu, China

You may know that acupuncture originates from China, but did you know that it has been used for well over 2000 years?

In this article, we take a trip back through time and explore the history of acupuncture, from its ancient roots, right up to the present day.

Where does acupuncture originate from?

Acupuncture originated in ancient China and has been practiced, almost unchanged, ever since its birth thousands of years ago.

The earliest, and one of the most important, acupuncture texts is the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic). It is unclear exactly when this book was published, but it is thought to be sometime between the 2nd and 3rd century BCE.

This book introduced many of the principles of acupuncture with which we are familiar with today. These include yin and yang, qi, and meridians. Although it is thousands of years old, versions of the Huang Di Nei Jing are still studied by acupuncture students around the world, even today.

Although there is evidence of acupuncture being used as long as 2000 years ago, it is possible that acupuncture could be even older than this. Archaeologists have discovered needle-like tools fashioned from bone and stone from as early as the Neolithic period. However, there is some debate as to whether these were used for acupuncture or another purpose.

It does seem likely, though, that early acupuncture was performed using sharpened pieces of stone. These were replaced by metal needles some time during the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). At this time, acupuncture needles were made from silver or gold but, these were replaced with steel needles during the Qing dynasty (AD 1644-1911). These were much more similar to the acupuncture needles used today, which are still made from fine, stainless steel.

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Is acupuncture used in modern China?

Acupuncture enjoyed its golden age in China around 2000 years ago. However, as the centuries passed, it began to fall out of favor and people turned to more modern medical practices. By the 18th century, acupuncture was deemed ‘superstitious’ by many people and was something of a dying tradition.

However, all that changed during Chairman Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the Cultural Revolution in the 1950s and 60s. Mao was responsible for promoting acupuncture as an affordable and accessible treatment, even in poor, rural areas where resources were scarce.

This campaign led to the creation of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as it is currently practiced in modern China. Thanks to Mao, acupuncture is now a popular treatment across the whole country and is used in hospitals alongside western medicine, as well as in smaller, more traditional clinics.

The current Chinese government is also keen to promote acupuncture and TCM to the rest of the world. A great deal of time and money is spent researching acupuncture and its clinical applications and mechanisms, helping to bring this ancient art up to date in our ever-changing world.

Is acupuncture used in other Asian countries?

Although acupuncture originates from China, both Japan and Korea have developed their own styles of acupuncture over the years. These are somewhat similar to Chinese acupuncture, but they also have some key differences.

Japanese acupuncture is known for being extremely gentle, with much lighter needle stimulation than Chinese acupuncture. Some Japanese acupuncture practitioners do not even allow their needles to penetrate the skin! Japanese tradition also places great importance on the use of an herb called moxa which is used to warm the acupuncture points and stimulate them without using needles.

Korean acupuncture is famed for its microsystems, such as Korean hand acupuncture. This works on the basis that the hand is covered in points which correspond to other parts of the body, similar to the ideas behind reflexology. It also uses other microsystems such as ear acupuncture.

When did acupuncture come to the west?

Acupuncture first came to the west as early as the 13th century when a few Chinese medicine texts found their way to Europe. However, it did not become popular until much later, during the 1970s.

Acupuncture really began to find its feet in America after a journalist returned from China having witnessed surgery using acupuncture for pain relief. He wrote about his experience and, since then, the therapy has grown and grown in popularity.

Of course, when anything suddenly becomes well-known, there are always going to be skeptics. Many people in the west were initially wary of acupuncture and questioned whether or not it was really effective. Even today, there are those who are doubtful about acupuncture, stating that there is a lack of scientific evidence that it works.

Fortunately, technological advances have meant that we now understand the way that acupuncture works better than ever before. Research is demonstrating that acupuncture helps in the treatment of a wide range of health issues, along with scientific evidence to explain why. It therefore seems likely that acupuncture will continue to grow in popularity as time goes on.

Although acupuncture originated in China many centuries ago, it seems set to help people across the world for many more years to come.


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