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Acupuncture

Japanese acupuncture chart, 1750.

Japanese acupuncture chart, 1750.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

Acupuncture is a technique that relies on needles being inserted into the body at specific points. Originating in China, it has been used for at least 2500 years. In China and Japan acupuncture forms a central part of traditional medical treatments. The needles are inserted at points determined by meridians, channels through which qi flows through the body. The aim is to correct the imbalance or blockage of qi energy in the meridians, which can lead to illness.

Acupuncture was introduced into Europe in 1683 by the physician Willem ten Rhijne. Rhijne had seen the technique while at the Dutch East India Company trading post, one of the few points of contact with the rest of the world then permitted by the Japanese government.

By the early 1800s acupuncture was fashionable in France and Great Britain and praised for its effectiveness in treating conditions such as gout and rheumatism. Its success may have been partly because of the resemblance seen between Chinese and humoral explanations of disease, and its subsequent decline is linked to the rise of pathological anatomy.

Today, acupuncture has undergone another global revival. Double blind tests continue to return contradictory accounts of its efficacy, but acupuncture’s popularity as a treatment, in particular for pain, now seems firmly entrenched across the world.

Bibliography

R E Bivins, Acupuncture, Expertise, and Cross-Cultural Medicine (London: Palgrave, 2000)

L Gwei -Djen and J Needham, Celestial Lancets: A History and Rationale of Acupuncture and Moxa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)

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