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Abbreviated History of Acupuncture & Moxibustion

by Michael S. Kaplan, PhD.

The science of acupuncture and moxibustion is a subject dealing with the prevention and treatment of diseases by needling and moxibustion methods. For thousands of years it has been accepted by the general Chinese population as an effective curative method for a wide range of indications, becuase of its simple application, low-cost and safety, among its other attributes.

Acupuncture and moxibustion are an important component of traditional Chinese medicine with a long history. As early as the new stone age in China, primitive human beings used the bian stone, the earliest acupuncture instrument, to treat diseases.

Needles made of bone and bamboo appeared during the period of development of production techniques. After the development of metal casting techniques, metal medical needles, such as bronze, iron, gold and silver needles were used.

At present, stainless-steel needles are widely used by most western practitioners in the form of sterilized disposable needles of various gauges, determined by body type and reactivity.

Moxibustion was developed gradually as early as the discovery and use of fire. At first, primitive man found that warming themselves by fire relieved or stopped 'cold' pain in parts of the body. This evolved into using methods of burnt hot stone or sand wrapped in animal skin or bark to treat diseases with local hot compression.

Based on this, people gradually perfected the technique, using ignited branches or bundles of hay to warm the diseased part of the body. This is the most primitive form of moxibustion. Gradually, leaves from the moxa plant were chosen as the most effective moxibustion material.

The science of acupuncture and moxibustion sustained an uninterrupted course of development. From the Eastern Han dynasty to the Three Kingdoms, the science of acupuncture and moxibustion developed further. Hua Tuo, the famous Chinese physician during that period, could select only one or two points in acupuncture treatments. He paid much attention to the propagation of needling sensation. He was ascribed to the authorship of Canon of Moxibustion and Acupuncture Preserved in Pillow.

Zhang Zhongjing, another physician in this period has also elaborated the methods of acupuncture, moxibustion, fires needling, and warm needling management of various treatment in acupuncture. In his book, Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases, he stressed the combination of acupuncture with medicinal herbs for treatment according to the differentiation of symptom complex.

The famous Chinese medical doctor Huangfu Mi in the Jin Dynasty compiled the book A B Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion by collecting materials of acupuncture and moxibustion from the ancient books Plain Questions, Canon of Acupuncture and Essential of Points, Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Huangfu Mi's book consists of 12 volumes with 128 chapters, including 349 acu-points with locations, indications, and manipulations of these points. It also describes regulating techniques and precautions of acupuncture and moxibustion, and the treatment of common diseases by acupuncture and moxibustion. This is the earliest exclusive book on acupuncture and moxibustion and has been one of the most influential works in the history of these techniques.

In this century, acupuncture and moxibustion were introduced abroad, and popularly applied in many countries. They have become an important part of the medical exchanges between China and foreign countries, and have made great contribution to peoples health throughout the world.


Article by Michael S. Kaplan, PhD, and


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The information provided on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Should you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering any natural remedy.

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