The History of Acupuncture in China
Acupuncture, or needle puncture, is a European term invented by Willem Ten Rhyne, a Dutch physician who visited Nagasaki in Japan in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Chinese describe acupuncture by the character 'Chen', which literally means 'to prick with a needle', a graphic description of this therapeutic technique.
Acupuncture has a clearly recorded history of about 2,000 years, but some authorities claim that it has been practiced in China for some 4,000 years. The Chinese believe that the practice of acupuncture began during the Stone Age when stone knives or sharp edged tools, described by the character 'Bian', were used to puncture and drain abscesses. In fact the Chinese character 'Bian' means the 'use of a sharp edged stone to treat disease', and the modern Chinese character 'Bi', representing a disease of pain, is almost certainly derived from the use of 'Bian stones' for the treatment of painful complaints.
The origin of Chinese medicine is a fascinating story and acupuncture represents only one facet of their medical system. The first recorded attempt at conceptualizing and treating disease dates back to about 1500 BC during the Shang dynasty. Tortoise shells with inscriptions dating from that time have been found, and it is thought that these were used for divination in the art of healing. The philosophical basis of much of the very early Chinese medicine seems to have been to seek harmony between the living and their dead ancestors, and the good and evil spirits that inhabited the earth.
The Development of the Chinese Approach to Medicine and Science
The first known acupuncture text is the Nei Ching Su Wen and there is a great deal of controversy about the exact origins and authorship of this book. The Nei Ching Su Wen is divided into two main sections, the Su Wen, or simple questions and the Ling Shu, or difficult questions. The book is also known by a variety of alternative titles such as the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, or the Canon of Medicine, but all these titles refer to the same basic text.
The initial section of the Nei Ching Su Wen involves a discussion between the Yellow Emperor, Huang Ti, and his Minister, Ch'i Pai. This discussion lays down the philosophical basis of traditional Chinese medicine, and makes the Nei Ching Su Wen more of a treatise on health and disease rather than a textbook of medicine. Early Greek texts on medicine are mainly of interest to the medical historian rather than the practicing physician. For instance, Hippocrates does make many excellent philosophical and practical observations about disease and the doctor-patient relationship, but for the most part these texts are recipe books for a variety of ill-defined diseases. The Nei Ching Su Wen is timeless and deals almost exclusively with philosophical concepts, many of which seem to be as important today as they were 2,000 years ago.
(Excerpted from Acupuncture-Its Place in Western Medical Science)