The Chinese acupuncture chart is one of the most well-known examples of the tools used in Chinese medicine. Although acupuncture charts have been around for much longer, they started appearing in larger quantities around the Ming dynasty, when printing of vernacular literature was becoming widespread. Usually, the charts would appear in manuals of Chinese medicine as a means of both teaching and remembering the location of acupoints.
To be exact, acupuncture charts are not made for acupuncture but Chinese medicine in general, including massage, moxibution, reflexology, etc. As a general principle, they are not pictures explaining how to needle the body but diagrams displaying the path of channels (meridians, conduits) and the location of acupoints (xuewei). These channels and points can be targeted not only by needles, the main objective being the influencing of the flow of vital energy (qi) throughout the bodily organs.
Because of the large number of acupoints, most acupuncture charts display only a specific segment of the channels and points, depending on what body part, bodily functions or disorders the
text discusses. Thus there can be separate charts for the ear, the stomach, the head, the foot, the back; there can be charts describing the healing of cold or hot diseases, the treatment of
ailments caused by wind or exhaustion, etc. All in all, the acupuncture chart is always there to provide some sort of visual enhancement to the main text. It is never intended as a standalone
image, only as an illustration or aid to understanding the text.
An interesting phenomenon regarding Chinese acupuncture charts is how similar these charts stayed over the centuries. Although there are differences between the number of acupoints
in different periods, ranging from a couple hundred to over a thousand, the main acupuncture points have stayed the same. Obviously, it is always the most important acupoints, such as
Hegu, Zusanli, Shenmen, Sanyinjiao, Neiguan, etc., that are used in practice, the majority of other points being predominantly of scholastic interest. As a general principle, practitioners develop their
favorite set of points through the stimulation of which they can achieve the best results.
The acupuncture chart above shows a seated man displaying the Ren meridian and the acupoints located on it. This is the channel that runs across the middle of the man's torso and is one
of the most important channels in the body. The chart also shows another channel that comes down along the inner part of his left leg all the way to the sole of his foot.
The acupuncture chart to the right shows a standing figure with a Pericardium meridian running along his left arm. The acupoints are clearly displayed along his arm, making it convenient
for practitioners of Chinese medicine to locate these points in real life. Please also note that these acupoints are marked on the channel with circular dots and a label on the end of a
line coming form the dots -- this is a very modern way of providing captions for images but has been used in China for centuries.
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