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A History of Moxibustion

May 24, 2008
Acupuncture and moxibustion are important component procedures in traditional Chinese medicine which prevent and treat disease by puncturing certain points on the body with needles or applying heat with ignited moxa wool. Of marked efficacy and requiring but simple equipment, they have been widely popular in China and elsewhere for thousands of years.

The initiation and development of the art of acupuncture and moxibustion have undergone a long historical process. They are summaries of experience of the Chinese labouring people of many centuries in their struggle against disease. As early as in the Stone Age, people used needles fashioned of stone for curative purposes. These are known as bian and are a rudiment of acupuncture. When human society entered the Bronze and then the Iron Age, needles made of these metals were substituted for the stone bian.

And with the development of social productive technique, needling instruments were constantly improved, providing conditions for the further refinement of acupuncture. Moxibustion originated after the introduction of fire into man's life. It is assumed that while warming themselves by the fire, people in ancient times accidentally found relief or disappearance of certain pain or illness when definite areas of the skin were subjected to burning.

Moxa leaves were later chosen as the material for cauterization as they are easily lit and the heat produced is mild and effective in removing obstruction of channels and collaterals. And so the art of moxibustion was established.

The earliest extant medical classic in China, Huangdi Neijing, was compiled between 500-300 B.C. It is a summary of the medical experience and theoretical knowledge prior to the Warring States period. The book, which consists of two parts, Suwen and Lingshu, describes the basic theories of traditional Chinese medicine, such as yin-yang, the five elements, zang-fu, channels and collaterals, qi (vital energy), and blood, etiology, pathology, diagnostic methods and differentiation of syndromes, as well as basic knowledge concerning acupuncture points and needling methods. Following Neijing, there appeared quite a number of treatises on acupuncture and moxibustion written in different dynasties, among which representative ones are:

Zhenjiu compiled by Huangfu Mi of the Jin Dynasty on the basis of Neijing, Nanjing (A Classic of Difficult Questions), and others. These books give a comprehensive description of the basic theories and knowledge of acupuncture and moxibustion, laying a foundation for the development of acupuncture and moxibustion into an independent branch of traditional Chinese medicine.

Tongren Shuxue Zhenjiu Tujing (lllustrated Manual on Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion Shown on a Bronze Figure, 1026 A.D.) was compiled by Wang Weiyi, an acupuncturist of the Song Dynasty, after thoroughly checking the acupuncture points of the fourteen channels. The next year, i.e., A.D. 1027, Wang Weiyi sponsored the casting of two life-size bronze figures marked with acupuncture points, a momentous event in the development of acupuncture and moxibustion.
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