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Acupuncture training model, China, 1725-1730

Imagine you’re training to be a doctor in China in 1026. What kind of exams will you take? You will need to do a practical exam, not just write essays. One of your tasks will be to demonstrate that you understand the idea of meridians – channels of energy running through the body. Your examiner will ask you to diagnose and treat some symptoms on a life-sized model covered in yellow wax. You can't see underneath, but you know that the statue is made of bronze, filled with water, and covered in holes running along the meridian lines. You’ll need to place an acupuncture needle into the correct part of a meridian to pass the exam. If you succeed, your needle will go straight through the hole, and water will pour out of the model. If you pick the wrong spot, your needle will hit the bronze statue and you’ll fail. Why were exams organised this way? The Chinese Emperor wanted to make sure that all students were educated to the same level and used the same standard acupuncture points. The bronze men came with a manual, written by a court physician, Wang Weiyi (c.987-1067CE). It became an official textbook distributed throughout the country. In the 1720s, when this copy of the bronze man was made, medicine in China had changed. Acupuncture was no longer as important. Instead, medical practice focused on herbal medicine and massage. So the Emperor had these small models made and sent to important people in the medical profession, asking them to promote acupuncture again. And so another generation of students faced the nerve-racking bronze man exam.

Object number:

A156197

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    Glossary: acupuncture figure

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    Glossary: acupuncture

    A central therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. These points are believed by to lie on channels, or meridians, of energy flow, or qi (chi).

    Glossary: meridians

    The main channels of energy flow (qi) in Chinese medicine. There are 12 meridians in total.