Acupuncture; The Ancient Chinese Art of Healing: How it Works Scientifically
By Felix Mann
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese system of medicine in the practice of which a fine needle pierces the skin to a depth of a few millimeters and is then withdrawn. The only thing of real importance in the study of acupuncture is to know at what point to pierce the skin in relation to which disease.
The notion that a pinprick, often in a part of the body far removed from the seat of die disease, can cure an illness is alien to conventional thinking. It is unfortunately the case that many doctors, even when faced with one or several patients who have been cured by acupuncture where their own efforts have been fruitless, refuse to believe the evidence.
The oldest records of acupuncture (acus = needle, punctura = puncture) are to be found on bone etchings of 1600 B.C. The first book of acupuncture, which contains a wealth of detail, is the Hungdi Neiging Suwen written about 200 B.C. It is one of the earliest treatises in Chinese on any subject.
Acupuncture is not the exclusive possession of the Chinese. The papyrus Ebers of 1550 B.C. is the most important of the ancient Egyptian medical treatises. It refers to a book on the subject of vessels which could correspond to me 12 meridians of acupuncture. These vessels certainly could not refer to the arteries, veins or nerves of the four limbs of the human body. However, my enquiries at the Egyptian Department of the British Museum have not been able to make matters clearer as the ancient Egyptian language is not well enough known to distinguish between the words for 'vessel' and 'meridian.
The Bantu of South Africa sometimes scratch certain parts of the body to cure disease. In the treatment of sciatica some Arabs cauterise with a hot metal probe a part of the ear. This practice probably corresponds to a lesser known form of acupuncture called Ear acupuncture. Some Eskimos practice simple acupuncture with sharp stones. An isolated cannabalistic tribe in Brazil shoot tiny arrows with a blowpipe at specific parts of the body. The only observer ever to have returned from them thinks that, as the tribe show distinct Mongoloid features, this might also be related to acupuncture. Possibly the cautery practiced in mediaeval Europe is also related to the tradition though this was mainly applied at congested or painful places and would therefore correspona to the simplest form of acupuncture in which only the locus aolenti, and not the distant part, is stimulated.
The great contribution of the Chinese to the primitive, or probably largely local form of acupuncture mentioned above, is that they have developed a fairly complete systematic method. Catalogued and described in numerous text books, it is taught at university and is reproducible at will under experimental conditions.
In China today the intending medical student can enter a university to learn, as in almost all parts of the world, Western medical practice. Or he can choose to study traditional Chinese medicine in another department of the same university. The student who chooses the Western path also studies the rudiments of the Chinese tradition while the other also follows courses in basic anatomy, physiology, pathology and other modern basic disciplines. Both courses take three to five or even seven years. Very few doctors of one school are also experts of the other, but in some hospitals doctors of each medical culture work together: the surgeon performs the operation, the acupuncturist treats the post-operative retention of urine, thus obviating the need for a catheter, and stimulates the lungs to prevent post-operative pneumonia.
Many Chinese are over impressed by Western medicine for they sec that everything that has impelled China, or indeed any other non Western civilization, into the twentieth century originated in the Western world. Quite literally, everything of practical importance: electricity, cars, mass production factories and the like, derives from the applications of Western science. Without Western technology China would still be where she was 100 years ago, that is in conditions relatively little different from those of 1000 years ago. The impact of the West has been so great that the Chinese have forgotten even those parts of their own culture which, in certain respects at least, is better than that imported from the 'fair haired, big nosed devils'.
One of the very few almost exclusively indigenous discoveries that surpasses its Western equivalent in several respects, is acupuncture. There are many diseases, or physiological dysfunctions, which do not yet amount to a disease that can be cured by acupuncture and not by Western medicine. Naturally, there are also diseases that can be cured by Western medicine which are intractable to the acupuncturist. The Chinese people themselves often do not sufficiently value the traditional skill of the acupuncturist They take it too much for granted, much as we in the West take for granted the services of electricity, piped water or rubbish collection, only realizing their value when a strike or other action interrupts their functioning.
In this book the viewpoint moves backwards and forwards between traditional acupuncture and scientific medicine. Acupuncture is for the most part based on observed facts which have been woven into a fairly complete system of medicine by a system of theories. The theories themselves are often surprisingly accurate at least insofar as concerns clinical treatment Not infrequently, however, the theory has been based on philosophical and mystical speculation and can then, often, only be useful as a thread which the mind follows as it weaves together the multitudinous and seemingly isolated threads of factual observation.
Much of what is factually observed in acupuncture could be explained in a way completely different from that of the traditional Chinese account. One example might be a different account by way of the discipline of neurophysiology.
In the chapters that follow I have mentioned nearly all the traditional Chinese theories as I think it is important that they should be known and understood before one starts one's own research. Furthermore, I suspect that much of what seems mystical nonsense to some, in reality portrays many of the laws of nature (even where these are as yet unknown to us) despite the fact that they are expressed in a language that we might call unscientific
Some doctors or patients may indeed wonder how one can practice a form of medicine where the theories on which that practice is based are possibly suspect. Just as a doctor will prescribe aspirin because he Knows what are its effects in the body of a patient; so an acupuncturist will needle a certain acupuncture point because he knows what die consequent reaction of the body will be. It is of secondary importance to the doctor to know just why it is that aspirin has its specific effects, no matter how intellectually interesting such knowledge might be. At the time of writing little is understood of why the known effects of aspirin take place, yet aspirin, with its simple chemical formula, is the most commonly used drug in the world.
The reader will be made aware by various remarks throughout this book, particularly those in chapter XI, that I believe neither in the major part of the traditional Chinese theoretical explanation of acupuncture nor even in its practical application where this is based solely on traditional theory. Doctors who follow my courses in acupuncture will find that this divergence in both theory and practice is no hindrance to the successful treatment of a large number of diseases occurring in their patients. Doctors who wish to study acupuncture are welcome to write to me. From time to time I give courses, largely of a practical nature, during which I concentrate on those aspects of the subject that would be difficult to describe in a book.