How Acupuncture Was Ruined by Acu-Points & Its Revival by An Acupuncture Skeptic in 1930s


Few acupuncturists today, if any, are aware of the wonder of the ancient Chinese acupuncture practiced over 2000 years ago. By the time the Chinese medicine classic Huangdi Neijing came into place (100 BC), acupuncture in China had already advanced to such a point that it was widely practiced as a magically effective and highly reliable medicine. It was so successful that the authors of Neijing strongly believed that the herbs, most of them are poisonous, should be replaced by needles (Lingshu 1).

A Distorted Stray from the True Healing Art

But history turned out a huge irony: Acupuncture in China had struggled its way from its best time (prior to 100 BC) to its demise (in 1822 – 1929), finally ended up being absorbed by herbs in 1950s.

How come this happened? It was mostly due to the poor efficacy of a fundamentally distorted acupuncture shaped by the physicians of post-Neijing era all through the last 2000 years. This distorted acupuncture strayed far away from the true ancient Chinese wisdom of healing – the technique called Miu Ci, which was used in over 99% of cases encountered in everyday practice in Neijing times.

Very few people in the last 2000 years have been able to use Miu Ci because no one (except extremely few) correctly understood it. Without using Miu Ci, clinically the chances you can get magical result is no more than 1%, the rest 99% of the odds is you would fail in 50% of cases statistically like flipping a coin, or only get very poor results if not completely fail. This is because "no where on the body is there no acupoint" or "any point on the body has more or less effect (a spectrum from 0 to 100)" and you are in 99% of cases just stabbing in the dark then pray.

The Demise of the Distorted Acupuncture

The decline of the acupuncture in China all started from the point when an amazing cycle or loop composed of 12-Jing-Mai vessels (called 12-meridians in the West) connected in tandem was invented by the author of Lingshu 10 of Neijing. The purpose of the author of LS 10, in coining the 12 "meridian" cycle, was simple – to satisfy his or her hypothesis that blood moves in a cycle (but not in a tidal way) through blood vessels. He or she was not satisfied with the existing Bianque (扁鹊) medicine's blood flow theory. In Bianque medicine, blood was believed to move back and forth like tide movement in each unconnected individual blood vessels. (Note: In Bianque medicine, only 11 big blood vessels vessel were known and none of them related to the organ lung. The author of Lingshu 10 managed to add a new one connected to lung so that the total number of Jingmai vessels becomes 12 to meet the number of months in a year.)

The design of this cycle, in spite of its endless contradictions to other chapters of Neijing, looked so wonderful in that it matches yin-yang, the 12 months of the year, the 12 (so believed) big rivers on the earth, the harmony of heavy and earth and so on. It was such a brilliant invention that it "shadowed" all of the jewels scattering in Neijing and Neijing medicine's precursor – Bianque (扁鹊) medicine.

The interesting drama is, this fabulous "12-meridian" cycle functioned nothing but misleading even smart scholars. The smarter, the worse misled. Amazed with the beautiful cycle, the needling in later era was restricted to the tiny spots on the 1mm-wide Jingmai vessel -- no one dared to deviate from it. Although Neijing described more than 1,460 acupoints and unlimited locations (essentially anywhere except nails, eyes and hairs) on the body which can be pricked or bled by using Miu Chi for a cure ( (SW 58, SW 63), few physicians of post-Neijing times understand how to do that.

Understandably, the instant this smart invention of 12-"meridian" loop came into place, any further possible advance of acupuncture science in China was brought to a flat halt. The halt has lasted for 2000 years until today.

By the time of 1770s, acupuncture in China was already known as a lost tradition (Xu Dachun, 1775). In 1822, acupuncture was flatly banned from Imperial Medical Institute of Qing Dynasty, officially marking the death of acupuncture in China.

At latest since 1770s when Xu Dachun lamented the lost of tradition of acupuncture, the absolute majority of physicians in China were only doing herbs and disdained acupuncture as "fortune-teller's craft". No one (except very few) believed acupuncture really works or, if it does, works any better than herbs.

Revival of the Deceased Acupuncture

The years of 1930s saw the revival of the deceased acupuncture thanks to the work by the famous acupuncture scholar Cheng Dan-An (1899-1957). In fact, like many others, Cheng was originally an acupuncture-skeptic. He started studying Chinese herbal medicine at age 18 although he had no interest in it but was requested by his father (a Chinese medicine doctor). So he also learned Western medicine through postal courses and clinical training.

Cheng had remained particularly skeptic on acupuncture until 1923 when his low back pain and insomnia were cured by his father's needles while both Chinese herbs and Western medications had failed to help. This was the turning point of Cheng Danan's view on acupuncture. He started to believe there were jewels hidden in this dead healing method, and began to learn acupuncture by reading Yang J.Z's Zhenjiudacheng (1601).

In 1931, he completed a book "Chinese Acupuncture Therapy" which absorbed Japan's neurological acupuncture theory. The key points of the book are:

- Nowhere on the body is there no acupoint, because peripheral nerves are ubiquitous; (盖人身寸寸是穴...刺之目的则在该处之神经。夫神经随处多有,故曰寸寸是穴)

- The concept of 12 Jing-Mai (12-meridians) is discarded as a metaphysical nonsense (12 经络之玄论...废弃不谈);

- The 12 Jing-Mai system is still retained, simply as body markers for the convenience (但为记忆上之便利,仍以12经脉为系统);

- Acupuncture works by stimulating nerves (针刺者,即所以刺激神经...以恢复其常态也);

- All the metaphysical conceptions such as Yin-yang, 5-element, and qi are discarded.

Cheng continued to advocate acupuncture. In 1933, he created China's first professional journal for acupuncture. In 1934 - 1935, he visited Japan and received an acupuncture specialist diploma from Tokyo Acupuncture School. On his back home, he opened the first modern acupuncture school in China using curriculum from Japan.

Cheng's work, though halted in 1937 when anti-Japanese war broke out, revived the dead acupuncture by making it easily understandable by many Chinese intellectuals including herbalist doctors and many Western-style physicians.

It is worthwhile to note here that among those who were influenced by Cheng Danan's acupuncture, physician Ren Zuotian 任作田 (1886 - 1950) is the one who introduced an obstetrician physician into acupuncture field in 1944, and this lady doctor, whose name is Zhu Lian (1909-1978), eventually wound up the mother of China's scientific acupuncture in the early 1950s.

No Where on the Body Is There No Acupoint

In the acupuncture field, Cheng Danan was the single most important Chinese acupuncturist of the middle-20th century who rescued acupuncture in China from oblivion.

Clinically, Cheng Danan in his late years recalled that by solely using needles, he could treat almost all health issues with instant effectiveness, with no need to use herbs ( 近数年中,参有针刺,病多应手,其效之速,竟有针未取去穴,而病已在刹那间去者。就实验上比较,于内外眼耳各科,针灸竟无不能,且效倍速,可以立见.) (Zhang Mei, 2018).

The magic effectiveness of Neijing acupuncture largely came from the extensive application of Miu Ci. The key of Cheng Danan's success is that his acupuncture worked in a way similar to Miu Ci.

Cheng Danan's acupuncture and its Neijing counterpart share the same key point: No where on the body is there no acupoint.


Cheng Danan, 1931, Chinese Acupuncture Therapy 中国针灸治疗学

Huangdi Neijing, Linshu 1, 九针十二原

Huangdi Neijing, Linshu 10, 经脉

Huangdi Neijing, Suwen 58, 气穴论

Huangdi Neijing, Suwen 63, 缪刺论

Xu Dachun, 1775, On the Origins of Medicine 医学源流论:针灸失传论.

Zhang Mei张梅, Cheng Danan and Chinese Acupuncture Medicine承淡安与中国针灸医学,2018,每日头条