History of Acupuncture

This is a very concise timeline of Chinese Medicine:

Shang Dynasty (1523 BC – 1027 BC)
Healing was based in shamanistic beliefs and ancestral communication. It was during this era that the bone oracles were written. The bones were used in divination and are the earliest record of writing in China.



ConfuciusZhou Dynasty (1027 BC – 221 BC)

Confucianism gained popularity and shifted the focus of healing away from shamanistic beliefs. It became more common to associate disease with interaction of the elements rather than as a result of ancestral involvement. Taoism as a philosophy was integrated during the late Zhou dynasty. During this era there was already an organized system of medicine used by court officials. This included bone setting, internal medicine and dietary disorders.


Ne JingHan Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)

It was during the Han dynasty that a complete system of medicine was developed and the most famous canons of Chinese medicine were written. The Huang Di Nei Jing was Written by many authors and it covers a conversation between the yellow emperor and his minister Qi Bo. Through question and answer segments they cover medical theory, acupuncture, and easy and difficult issues a practitioner may face. This classic is one of the biggest foundations for acupuncture that is practiced today. The Nan Jing (The classic of Difficulties) brings together all aspects of Yin Yang and Five Element theory. For a text that was written around two-thousand years ago it is incredibly contemporary in regards to Chinese medicine practiced today. Many students will study this book along with other ancient texts over and over again throughout their profession.

198 bce: Shang Han Lun Treatise on cold diseases: Written by Zhang Zhong-Jing it details the treatment of disease brought on by the invasion of cold.

110 ace to c207: ace Hua Tuo is renowned as the first surgeon of China.


Six Dynasties (220 – 589)

Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing (The Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion) was written. It focused on acupuncture as a form of preventative medicine.
lady baoThe Immortal Lady Bao
Very little is taught about female physicians in Acupuncture schools as far as I know. We never covered a single practitioner in my program even though there were of course many influential women throughout Chinese medical history. Lady Bao Gu was a famous acupuncturist during the Jin Dynasty and was known for her advancement in the field of dermatology treating such conditions as warts and skin tumors. She was so well known for her use of moxibustion that she also carried the nickname “Mugwort Lady Bao”. Many of the texts that women wrote were destroyed and most likely absorbed into major texts so as far as I know there are no common texts written by female practitioners that are recognized today.


sunsimiaoTang Dynasty (618 – 906)
Qian-jin Yao fang (Thousand Ducat Prescriptions) 652
Qian-jin Yi fang (Supplement to Thousand Ducat) 682

Written by Sun SI Mao

Sun Si Mao is famous for coming up with treatments still used in classical Chinese Medicine to treat psychiatric disorders. He also developed acupuncture charts that are still in use today.  Japan and Korea developed medical colleges.


bronzestatSong Dynasty (960 – 1264)

During this time the famous life-size bronze acupuncture statue was made and used as part of the qualifying test for physicians on their knowledge of acupuncture points

Zhang Xiaoniangzi
At the time a famous female surgeon, Zhang Xiaoniangzi was
well known for performing surgeries on carbuncles and abcesses.

During this era the four schools were developed


The Four Schools:

Cold and Cooling School Based on the theory that when ill health is caused by exposure to seasonal environmental factors such as damp weather or cold weather, that the body will eventually turn that into an internal heat condition when trapped in the body. He prescribed herbs and acupuncture that would clear the trapped heat.

Attacking School (encouraged purging through sweat, bowel elimination and induced vomiting to expel toxins),

Stomach and Spleen School (the theory still applied today that all diseases stem from disorders of the digestive system)

Nourish Fluids School (The theory that by nourishing and maintaining the fluids of the body was the key to optimum health)


Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643)

The advancement of Chinese medicine flourished during the Ming Dynasty so I chose to post a link for more detailed history: Ming Dynasty History

Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911)

Western medical influence begins to take hold and is seen as a political advantage to adopt its principles in place of classical medicine. The first western medical school was opened in China in 1888. The first guide tubes for acupuncture needles were developed which allowed for thinner needles and painless insertion.


changsheckRepublic of China (1911 – 1949)

A decline in the acceptance of Chinese Medicine began. Public health officials began a movement to abolish the practice of Chinese medicine but even though this was overridden by the protests of practitioners the campaign took its toll.



maoPeople’s Republic of China (1949 +)

Chairman Mao originally agreed with the abolishment of classical Chinese medicine but changed his mind when he saw it as a practical and political advantage to have an autonomous system of medicine.
Some of the best practitioners of Chinese medicine were brought together to systematize their practices into one readily teachable to the general populace so that it could be practiced widely.

Many great practitioners still retained and handed down their classical training throughout this time period and we are lucky to have access to teachers who inherited that knowledge.