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Published in: Vol. 5, No. 3
Category: Reviews

About the Author

Robert H. Imrie, David W. Ramey, Paul D. Buell, Edzard Ernst, and Stephen P. Basser


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Veterinary Acupuncture and Historical Scholarship: Claims for the Antiquity of Acupuncture

Abstract. Claims for the antiquity of acupuncture are ubiquitous in both the human and veterinary acupuncture and popular literature. These claims are not supported by the historical record. Evidence for therapeutic “needling” (zhen) of any kind dates back at most just over 2100 years, and even this evidence is ambiguous. The earliest clear-cut references to human acupuncture can be reliably dated only to the fifth to eighth centuries C.E. There is no unmistakable evidence for what may be therapeutic “needling” in the Chinese veterinary tradition until around 1000 C.E., and it is not entirely clear what was meant by the term in the early literature. Material describing veterinary “needling” in more detail does eventually appear, but the references are clearly to bleeding, lancing, cauterization, and even surgical intervention, rather than to acupuncture in the modern sense. Contrary to the assumptions of modern acupuncture proponents, the term zhen, as used in the original literature, is not synonymous with acupuncture. Not only is there no evidence of widespread application of fine needle acupuncture in animals prior to the mid to late 20th century, but the historical record has apparently been distorted or ignored. Examination of the original texts suggests that animal “needling” is more a Eurasian development than an original Chinese veterinary tradition.

To develop this review, we have employed the earliest available original source material. Modern versions of ancient Chinese medical and veterinary texts have apparently been revised to suit the needs of modern practitioners and political regimes.

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