Traditional Chinese medicine in perspective

We are sometimes given the impression that traditional Chinese medicien has developed progressively from ancient times to the present, but this is misleading. Acupuncture as we have it today is less than 100 years old!

Until quite recently acupuncture had long been in decline in China. In the mid-eighteenth century a physician lamented that it was a lost art, with few teachers able to instruct young physicians. By the mid-nineteenth century it was not being practised by educated physicians. In so far as it was used at all it was largely as a branch of minor surgery; the needles then in use were thicker and more varied in shape than modern needle.

Its revival in China in the 1930s was due to a physician, Cheng Dan'an, who had studied in Japan and who broke decisively with the past. He introduced the use of fine needles and based acupuncture on Western descriptions of anatomy. He rejected what he thought of as superstitious notions and taught that acupuncture worked via the nervous system. His views were widely accepted and anticipated many of the ideas that characterise Western medical acupuncture today.

This trend continues in China today. It is remarkable that most of the papers in Acupuncture in Medicine, the acupuncture research journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, which only publishes papers on the modern form of acupuncture, now come from China. Enthusiasm for the ancient ideas is largely a Western phenomenon.

Source: The Making of Modern Chinese Medicine 1859-1960, by Bridie Andrews

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