The Story of the Yellow River and Chinese Acupuncture

  1. Acupuncture: An extraordinary therapeutic method over two millennia old

Acupuncture treats diseases by the insertion of fine needles into the body. In July of 1971, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger made a secret trip to China to prepare for President Nixon’s historical visit. Among his entourage was James Reston, a journalist from the New York Times. While in China, Reston suffered an attack of acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at the Beijing Union Medical College, established by the Rockefeller Foundation of New York in 1916. During the second night after the operation, Reston started to experience considerable discomfort in his abdomen.

With his approval, an acupuncturist at the hospital inserted and manipulated three long thin needles, one into the outer part of his right elbow and one below each knee. There was noticeable relaxation of the abdominal pressure and distension within an hour, with no recurrence of the problem thereafter. James Reston included a detailed description of his experiences with acupuncture in his dispatches from Beijing. This was the first such report to reach the English-speaking citizens of the United States, at least the vast majority who had no daily contact with Asians.

By contrast, acupuncture has been known and practiced in China for over 2300 years. Qin Yueren, the earliest recorded Chinese practitioner, is considered to be the founder of acupuncture. A biography of Qin Yueren is included in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji), the masterwork of the eminent Chinese historian Sima Qian (135 – ? BC). It is known that Qin Yueren lived around 407-310 BC, and was a contemporary of Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC), the father of Western medicine.

Qin Yueren traveled widely throughout the feudal states that compromised China during his time, treating men and women, old and young alike. As a result, he was given the auspicious appellation Bian Que, which means Wayfaring Magpie – a bird that flies here and there dispensing good fortune. Several carved stones, unearthed from a tomb dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), portray him with a human head and a bird’s body.

On one occasion, while passing through the State of Guo (present-day Shan County in Henan Province), Bian Que learned that the Prince of Guo had died and his subjects were preparing to inter him. After careful examination, Bian Que believed that the prince had merely experienced a type of deep coma known as deathlike reversal. He successfully resuscitated the patient by needling an acupoint on the vertex of his head, and become known for bringing the dead back to life. This was the first recorded use of acupuncture in China.

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