The Origins of Acupuncture

Acupuncture was first established as a practice in China, where the tradition originated. However, prior to this, the theories and methods that acupuncture are based upon are speculated to have pre-date recorded history.

The basis for acupuncture is that there are energy flows within the human body all connected to a persons Qi. The 12 flows throughout the body called meridians channels. These do not follow the paths of blood flow and nerve systems, however they do represent the major organs and functions of the human body.


Practices dating back to 6000 BC used sharpened stones and long, sharp bones. These may have just been for simple medical procedures but some have deduced that this was for healing processes using similar ideals to acupuncture.


Furthermore, the ‘Ice Man’, Otzi, who was recently discovered showcased how the medical procedures of the Copper Age were surprisingly advanced, with tattoo markings on his body offering therapeutic benefits, not just embellishments on the skin. Otzi was alive close to 5,300 years ago, showing acupuncture techniques predating the Chinese origins. These speculations, despite not being certain evidence of prehistoric acupuncture, give us a broad idea that the theories acupuncture is based upon have been circulating for thousands of years.


There have been a number of discoveries that date back to before 100 BC in China that could suggest the use of acupuncture in society, however, the first conclusive evidence of acupuncture was recorded in 100 BC in the Chinese book The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. The book detailed the meridian channels in which the Qi flows through. The exact acupuncture points, however, were later developed over the following centuries. Over the next few hundred years the practice was developed and became a recognized healing method in China, used alongside massage and herbal remedies to promote health and wellbeing.

The healing method was seemingly ‘perfected’ between the 14th and 16th Century, during the Ming dynasty. In this time, bronze statues showcasing the exact acupuncture points were created for training purposes, and are still in use to this day. In addition, The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion was published, going into detail about the 365 points in which needles can be inserted into the human body to alter the flow of Qi. The methods established in this era lay the groundwork of modern acupuncture methods.


A decline in the tradition was seen in the 17th century in China, as it was questioned for being a superstitious ideal with no scientific basis. This decline heavily correlated with the rise of Western medicines being introduced into China. The 19th Century saw acupuncture excluded from approved medical institutions by the Emperor of the time, and almost 100 years later it was outlawed in the country entirely. Eventually the communist government in China reinstated acupuncture alongside other traditional forms of medicine in 1949.


Meanwhile, acupuncture had spread beyond China. Korea and Japan were aware and practicing the method from as early as the 6th century, while the British and Americans began to explore the tradition from the mid-19th Century. It wasn’t until recently, in 1971, that the USA accepted acupuncture as a proven healing method, and ever since the practice has seen huge growth as a holistic healing method.


By Cerys May

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