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

Gold accupunture needles from Liu Sheng's tomb. Wenhuadageming qijian chutu wenwu p. 16
Gold acupuncture needles from Liu Sheng’s tomb; Wenhuadageming Qijian Chutu Wenwu p. 16
  • The feudal system in China was established and strengthened.
  • With feudalism, 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 (Huangdi Neijing) – around 250 BCE
    • This was 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 (Huangdi Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing) – 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 (Tongren Shuxue Zhen Jiu Tujing) 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 were made of existing literature.

Qing Dynasty – 1644-1911 CE

  • For various 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 Bio-medicine 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, MD, 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 had 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.”

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