Acupuncture first came about during the Chou dynasty (1030BC to 221BC) of Chinese therapy, as a system of therapy that involved using needles on precise points of the body. The points were derived from the philosophical concepts of humanity and its relationship to the natural environment. The Warring States period (480BC to 221BC) is particularly important in the development of acupuncture’s history as it incorporated two major philosophical ideologies into mainstream Chinese thought – Confucianism and Daoism.
One main belief of Confucianism is of the sacred completeness of the human body. The Dao in Daoism literally means the “way” to integrating human beings with the forces of the natural world in a harmonious manner. This is because the cyclic rhythm of these forces naturally balance and complement each other in order to create an environment that is favourable to life. The concepts of Chinese medicine that have been derived from Daoism maintain that it is necessary for the regulation of each person’s essential bodily processes to line up with the need for natural harmony.
Acupuncture, a way of treating internal conditions using an external means, evolved as a vital and needed addition to these beliefs. Fundamental to both acupuncture and Chinese philosophy is energy. This energy flows along pathways near the surface of the skin according to a diurnal cycle, and each pathway of energy corresponds to a particular organ. Acupuncture points are specific locations on the pathway that may be needed in order to affect the balance of the energy it contains and thereby regulate the function of the corresponding organ.
Over the centuries, acupuncture and Chinese medicine has evolved, as new ideas and new schools of thought have been discussed. Chinese medicine spread to neighbouring countries, especially Japan, Korea and Vietnam, and each country developed certain aspects of theory and practice which distinguish them from current Chinese approaches. There have been national schools and government exams over the last 1,000 years in China but there were also many private schools and family secrets were passed along from generation to generation.
It was only in the 20th century that Chinese medicine faced its greatest challenges. In the 1920s to 1940s, during the Nationalist vs. Communist civil war, Western medicine was embraced by both sides of the dispute. In 1949, the Communists took control of China, and Mao, the president, banned acupuncture at first. By 1954, Mao realised that Western medicine was not capable of reaching the entire Chinese population, so he ordered that four schools of Chinese medicine be created. These schools were required to remove all spiritual, pagan and esoteric material from their curriculum, and the schools became the backbone of modern Chinese medicine.
Currently, both Western and Chinese scientists are researching the scientific basis of acupuncture. Though the exact workings of acupuncture are not understood from a Western viewpoint, traditional acupuncture remains an effective method that is distinct from all others in its unique philosophical and physiological understanding of life.