The Acupuncture and Fasciae Fallacy

Let us be certain of a fact before being concerned with its cause. It is true that this method is too lengthy for most people who naturally run to the cause and overlook the certitude about facts; but at last we will avoid the ridicule of finding the cause of what does not exist.1

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757)

Amidst the plethora of flawed, implausible, and wasteful research on acupuncture and Chinese medicine, a 2002 study on the “Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians to Connective Tissue Planes” stands out as the height of factual neglect. In it, Helene Langevin and Jason Yandow of the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine claim to have matched real anatomical structures with the elusive acupuncture “meridians.” It should be noted that the widely accepted term “meridian” is a metaphor coined by George Soulié de Morant (1878 – 1955), a French delegate to China, and has no semantic relationship with the original Chinese word.2 The original designation is the composite word jing luo (經絡), which literally means “channel-network.” The term has been translated to English as chinglo channels, channels, vessels or more commonly, meridians. Debunking this study is of particular relevance because it is often used by acupuncturists and a wide range of other CAM providers to legitimize the meridian lore. The principle author, Helene Langevin, is a CAM celebrity and a member of the “Scientific Committee” of the International Fascia Research Congress, an organization dedicated to the “emerging field of Fascia Studies.” She is an Associate Professor of Neurology and the Director of the Program in Integrative Health at the University of Vermont; and has conducted multiple NCCAM-funded studies on the role of connective tissue in chronic pain, acupuncture and manual therapies.

This is what Langevin and Yandow wrote in their 2002 paper’s abstract:

Acupuncture meridians traditionally are believed to constitute channels connecting the surface of the body to internal organs. We hypothesize that the network of acupuncture points and meridians can be viewed as a representation of the network formed by interstitial connective tissue. This hypothesis is supported by ultrasound images showing connective tissue cleavage planes at acupuncture points in normal human subjects. To test this hypothesis, we mapped acupuncture points in serial gross anatomical sections through the human arm. We found an 80% correspondence between the sites of acupuncture points and the location of intermuscular or intramuscular connective tissue planes in postmortem tissue sections.3

What makes this study fundamentally flawed, despite its scientific appearance, is the fact that it is the embodiment of what I have elsewhere called “medical Orientalism.” By this term I mean a depiction of Eastern healing arts by Western authors, academics and researchers that is not generated from historical facts or reality, but from stereotypes that envision approaches to health and disease in the East as fundamentally dissimilar to the West. The historical facts do not support the fascial-planes hypothesis, and rather indicate that the Chinese concept of jing luo is quasi identical to the Greek notions of phlebes (blood vessels in general) and neura (ligaments, nerves, etc.). Indeed, as the classics scholar Elizabeth Craik has convincingly argued:

Chinese medicine resembles Hippocratic theory in that anatomical structures and orifices (perhaps better described as systems and processes) are seen in terms of the channels which link them to one another and to other areas of the body. Greek phlebes and Chinese mo are significant in physiology (normal–carrying blood and pneuma or qi) and pathology (abnormal–carrying noxious matter, inducing disease). Their supposed paths do not exactly coincide, but several are broadly similar (and more similar to each other than either is to the observed paths of arteries and veins). In particular, the route of the Chinese du channel (“governor vessel”) from spine to back of head carrying life force is similar to that of the Greek vessel carrying vital myelos. And the vessel centrally placed in the forehead in some Greek accounts is similar to the anterior continuation of the Chinese du channel. Furthermore, the parallel pairs of vessels symmetrically placed on either side of the du channel correspond with the parallel pairs of vessels postulated in many Greek accounts… Originally in China there was no elaborate system of acupuncture points (for example, twenty-eight points on the du channel) with measurements, any more than in Hippocratic practice. In sum, we see similar channels, with similar paths and similar contents, the focus of similar treatment for similar medical conditions.4

The elusive and mysterious meridian system seems therefore to be nothing more than a rudimentary and prescientific model of blood vessels and nerves. Langevin and Yandow’s conceptual model can thus be seen as historically unfounded. It is also implausible because postulating an anatomically precise “medical gaze” for ancient and medieval physicians is anachronistic. As one reader (Dr. Le Petomaneon) pertinently commented on my previous post, The Cargo Cult of Acupuncture, this postulation “begs the question of how preindustrial Chinese researchers could have created an accurate map of meridians without the advanced technology it has taken for anyone to have a remotely credible claim to have detected them.” In fact, as Michel Foucault (1926-1984) has pointed out, it is only in 18th-century Europe that the body became something that could be mapped with precision.5 For millennia prior to that, anatomical structures that lay below the threshold of the visible were conceptualized according to mythology, astrology, and other figments of the imagination. Consider, for instance, the 17th-century medical manuscript by Yang Jizhou (杨继洲) called the Zhenjiu Dacheng (针灸大成), where the medical and astrological narratives are inseparable. This work, which is incorrectly translated as the Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, describes a medical gaze that is not directed towards the body and its anatomy, but towards the Heavens and astrology.6 The Zhenjiu Dacheng and other prescientific manuals of medicine in China are not exploratory guides about the fascial planes or other anatomical structures; they are manuals of medical astrology. This is why the original designations of the principal meridians (e.g., tae yang, jue yin) represent the angular position (hour angle) of the Sun (Table 1), and not the “physiological functions thought to be specifically related to each,” as Langevin and Yandow inaccurately state. The historian Paul Buell has argued that even the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (黄帝内经, Huangdi Neijing, 400-200 BC), the formative book of Chinese medicine, is as much an astrological compendium as a medical text.

Image 1. The Chinese zodiac system called Stem-Branch (干支 gānzhī). The closed loop formed by the meridian network mimics the circular nature of the zodiac system. Image source: Facts and Details about China and Japan.

Table 1. Chart depicting an astrological relationship between the 12 main meridians, the 12 main organs, and the constellations of the Chinese zodiac system.7 Each meridians is named after a solar hour-angle (meaning the position of the Sun on the Ecliptic), and corresponds to a 2-hour time division of the Celestial Equator.

Also, historical facts do not supports Langevin and Yandow’s assertion that “during acupuncture treatments, fine needles traditionally are inserted at specific locations of the body known as acupuncture points.” The instruments described in the Inner Canon are mostly pins, lancets, fleams and bodkins; not fine needles. Besides, the ideogram zhēn (针), which has been mistranslated as “needle,” actually means any instrument of puncture, incision or penetration, such as a pin, lancet, needle or any other sharp device. In the Inner Canon, the term mostly refers to lancing and bloodletting, not acupuncture (as we define it today), particularly in a section called Simple Questions (素問, Su wen).8 Of the nine sharp instruments described in the the Inner Canon (Images 2-4), only three resemble coarse needles and pins.9 Some of these instruments significantly resemble the instruments of bloodletting and surgery found in medieval Europe (image 5). In fact, most of the traditional reference material that is currently associated with acupuncture and meridians is actually about a variety of methods and instruments to incise structures that share their paths, contents, and focus of treatment with the Greek notion of phlebes (blood vessels in general). If the current map of acupuncture points and meridians is distinct from the vasculature, it is because in the early 1930s the pediatrician Cheng Dan’an (承淡安, 1899-1957) resurrected and rehabilitated the vanishing street trade of therapeutic piercing by moving the treatment loci away from the blood vessels. He illustrated his revisions by painting the new pathways onto the skin of individuals and then photographing them. He also replaced the coarse medieval tools with the fine needles we associate with acupuncture today.10 It is the reproduction of these new pathways in modern acupuncture textbooks, and the new use of fine needles that Langevin and Yandow have unknowingly taken for historical facts.

Image 2. The nine tools described in the Inner Cannon are fund in medical manuscripts throughout the history of China. Image source unknown.

Image 3. Dimensions of the nine tool: the measurement unit is the cun (寸, pronounced “ts’un”), which is roughly equal to 3.3 cm (1.3 inches). Image source: Essentials of Chinese Acupuncture.11

Image 4. Reproduction of the nine tools. They do not look like “fine needles” to penetrate the fascial planes. Image source unknown.

Image 5. Reproduction of European medieval bloodletting and cautery tools based on archaeological finds at the abbey of Saint Eutizio, Italy. Legend: A. Cautery irons, 35 cm; B. Fleam & bowl, 28 cm; C. Medical spoon, 14 cm; D. Bodkin to remove arrows, 20 cm. Image source: Medieval Design.

In my previous posts I have argued that since the Chinese classics, such as the Zhenjiu Dacheng, base their meridian and point selection on astrology, and not on experimentation, it is not surprising that needling “nonacupuncture” (sham) control points is just as effective as “true” acupuncture.12 In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Helene Langevin, Brian Berman, and their colleagues finally acknowledge that:

The simplest explanation of such findings is that the specific therapeutic effects of acupuncture, if present, are small, whereas its clinically relevant benefits are mostly attributable to contextual and psychosocial factors, such as patients’ beliefs and expectations, attention from the acupuncturist, and highly focused, spatially directed attention on the part of the patient.13

In view of this admission, it seems that the further use of public funding to explore a hypothetical link between acupuncture and the fascial planes (or other structures) would amount to waste and misuse. The editors and contributors of Science-Based Medicine have consistently expressed their objection to the public funding of CAM research in general, especially for acupuncture. The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy has also voiced its opposition through their Position Paper on Acupuncture:

The Center for Inquiry is deeply concerned that the new found prominence of unproven and unscientific therapies like acupuncture diminishes the primacy of science in our health policy discourse and degrades our healthcare system. We believe the uncritical adoption of acupuncture will ultimately add incalculable costs to our already overburdened healthcare system and will lower standards of medical training and treatment. More fundamentally, the expansion of alternative medical institutions–increasingly funded by the federal government–lends dangerous and undue authority to pseudoscience, degrading respect for science in the public realm.14

According to the Center for Inquiry, the 2010 budget of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is $128.8 million – more than 60 times greater than its $2 million budget in 1992.  The budget of the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) was $121 million in 2008, and is presumably higher in 2010. Together, these funds amount to $240 million of taxpayer dollars, without counting the money these institutions have received from the government’s stimulus packages. Yet, not a single publicly funded research project has shown that a CAM modality is significantly beneficial for anything. Some of these projects are scientifically flawed, others (like the one discussed here) are based on inaccurate assumptions and factual neglect.

The laissez-faire attitude at NCCAM and OCCAM, and their leadership’s ignorance of historical and epistemological facts about the projects they fund, are certainly responsible for this deplorable situation. As a result, not only millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on seemingly ridiculous research projects, but also the very fact that they are supporting these projects is often used to lend an appearance of legitimacy to treatments and ideas that are not legitimate. Furthermore, as Kimball Atwood has argued, this research grant money has resulted in the establishment of a cadre of academics who have come to rely on the federal government with little regard for the scientific issues associated with CAM research.15 Helene Langevin is certainly one of these academics.

With special thanks to Kristin Koster, PhD, Paul Buell, PhD, and Paul Ingraham for their valuable comments.

1. Fontenelle BB (Author), Bergier J (Editor). Fontenelle: Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes suivi de Histoire des Oracles. Marabout Université. 1973.
2. Kendall DE. Dao of Chinese Medicine: Understanding an Ancient Healing Art. Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition. 2002.
3. Langevin HM, Yandow JA. Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians to Connective Tissue Planes. Anat Rec. 2002 Dec 15;269(6):257-65.
4. Craik EM. Hippocratic Bodily “Channels” and Oriental Parallels. Med Hist. 2009 January; 53(1): 105–116.
5. Foucault M. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Vintage. 1994.
6. Wilcox L (Translator). The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. vol. V. The Chinese Medicine Database. 2010.
7. Maciocia G. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Second Edition. Churchill Livingstone. 2005.
8. Unschuld PU. Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text. University of California Press. 2003.
9. Dharmananda S. Bleeding Peripheral Points: An Acupuncture Technique. [Accessed 24 August 2010].
10. Andrews BJ. History of Pain: Acupuncture and the Reinvention of Chinese Medicine. APS Bulletin. May/June 1999;9(3).
11. Anonymous. Essentials of Chinese Acupuncture. Foreign Language Press, Beijing, China.1979.
12. Moffet HH. Sham acupuncture may be as efficacious as true acupuncture: a systematic review of clinical trials. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Mar;15(3):213-6.
13. Berman BM, Langevin HM, Witt CM, Dubner R. Acupuncture for chronic low back pain. N Engl J Med 2010 Jul 29; 363(5):454-61.
14. Slack R, Mielczarek EV. Acupuncture: A Science-Based Assessment. Special Report. A Position Paper from the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy. 10 June 2010. [Accessed 05 October 2010].
15. Atwood K. The Ongoing Problem with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Skeptical Inquirer. 2003, 27(5). [Accessed 8 October 2010].

Posted in: Acupuncture, Medical Academia

Leave a Comment (52) ↓

52 thoughts on “The Acupuncture and Fasciae Fallacy

  1. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    May I recommend the article by Nie Jing-Bao? See:

    Dr. Nie explains here that the story that the Chinese discovered blood circulation is incorrect. (The story was first circulated by my compatriot Willem ten Rhijne in 1685, and spread further by Joseph Needham and Robert Temple.) Nie provides us with a translation of a text about the circulation of the two kinds of qi. See page 126 for the course of the constructive qi, and the next page (127) for the course of the defensive qi. Not only do these courses in no way correspond to arteries or nerves, but as far as I can see not with anything in the body at all. Roughly the courses run several times between toes and fingers passing various organs and making detours over the head.

    They are simply fantasy products.

  2. dt says:

    Brilliant article, Ben.
    Any chance it could be published in one of the journals, to get wider recognition?

  3. windriven says:

    “She is an Associate Professor of Neurology and the Director of the Program in Integrative Health at the University of Vermont”

    How many medical careers will she and the Program in Integrative Health shape? How many health care consumers will be touched in turn and left to understand that magic water and voodoo needles are critical elements of medical science.

    It is important to recover the horses that are already out of the corral. But isn’t it more important to close the gate?

  4. Draal says:

    Great post! I’m sure that many skeptics like myself just assumed that acupuncture hasn’t changed much since it’s origins in antiquity.

    Has there been any recognizable changes to NCCAM since the interview with Dr. Josephine Briggs?
    www dot

  5. joemcveigh says:

    I second or third the great post comments. I found this site a few weeks ago and I’m loving it. It’s what we need, but more importantly, I think dt is right: wider recognition of these articles would be even better.

    Speaking of acupuncture, it sounds a lot like Japanese Eyeball Poking:

    www dot

  6. pmoran says:

    “We found an 80% correspondence between the sites of acupuncture points and the location of intermuscular or intramuscular connective tissue planes in postmortem tissue sections.3″

    Ridiculous. No anatomist/histologist would be surprised at this, even without the “eye of the observer” playing a part.

    The 20% would presumably be over bones. Anywhere else such structures would be difficult or impossible to avoid, especially if intramuscular fascial septa are included.

  7. pmoran says:

    The elusive and mysterious meridian system seems therefore to be nothing more than a rudimentary and prescientific model of blood vessels and nerves.

    Not necessarily only that. During the rice-planting season, ancient Chinese physicians would surely have seen many instances of H. Streptococcal lymphangitis, from infected minor wounds on the hands or feet. The infected lymph channels can produce remarkably long, straight, narrow streaks running up the limb, converging on the draining lymph nodes. They would not correspond to any then-known anatomical structure and must surely have been the subject of conjecture.

    The same condition would be observed elsewhere on the body from infected flea bites.

    Some pictures.

  8. wertys says:


    I never thought of that – lymphangitis. It would certainly demand an explanation b/c it is a startling and rapidly progressive phenomenon. Nice hypothesis

  9. tmac57 says:

    When do you suppose that the broader medical community will finally recognize that they are staring at a naked emperor?

  10. daedalus2u says:

    I think that is it. PM, you should write it up.

    A linear progressing inflammation would just cry out for being poked by something.

    Poking it might even make it better, by triggering mast cells in the skin.

    Maybe that is the reason behind the urge to itch, to mechanically trigger mast cells to cause a respiratory burst from the release of histamine to locally lower NO levels to robustly turn on the immune system in the local region.

    I would think that lymphangitis could be induced experimentally with antigens or LPS and then the effects of poking it could be examined. If poking lymphangitis streaks with sticks and needles did accelerate resolution, then of course it would get used for everything. The more elaborate the ritual, the better the placebo effect. If a little poking is good, then more poking must be better, and poking that draws blood must be the best of all.

  11. Honam says:

    Image 2 is from the Yang Jizhou 楊繼洲 (1552-1620) work, Zhenjiu dacheng 針灸大成, book 4, page 1 a-b, Ming edition.

  12. daedalus2u says:

    Getting a secondary abscess following the lymphangitis would show that they were related, and provide a rationale for why a particular spot was connected to the heart, brain, etc.

    But it was probably not the peasants who planted rice that were the patients. Maybe they were experimental subjects. Likely then as now, acupuncture was reserved for those with more money than sense.

  13. Doc says:

    These studies on the anatomical correlates of the life force pump, the meridian and chakra system, are analogous to the neural correlates of consciousness. Neither generate the meridians or consciousness. They exist as part of the soul, spirit or subtle body.
    The see the meridians one needs clairvoyant sight. In other words outside space-time or as part of the interface to space-time.

    Isn’t it amazing after all the years of denial and deception by “skeptics” this psychic and after life information is infiltrating past the materialist cults within science.

    These studies of the anatomical correlates of consciousness or the life force pump (meridians) are desperate attempts by metaphysical naturalist to explain or explain away something through an outdated ideology that just doesn’t work.

  14. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @Jan Willem Nienhuys. Thank you for your comments. I am familiar with the refutation of the claim that the ancient Chinese described the circulation of blood. My article does not state that the Chinese knew about blood circulation. It is about bloodletting by puncturing veins. As you know, Galen who practiced bloodletting did not know about blood circulation. The same type of practice seems to have happened in China. Please review the evidence in my article Astrology with Needles.

  15. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @dt. Thank you for your kind comments, I was actually thinking about combining this article with the one called Astrology with Needles and submit it to one of the journals in clinical research. Stay tuned!

  16. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Draal. I call the attitude of Josephine Briggs and her staff “willful ignorance.” The NCCAM is a useless and wasteful institution that needs to be just shut down for the best interest of science.

  17. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ pmoran. I agree that the reasoning is ridiculous. In addition, the the 80% correspondence is just on the arm. They extrapolated from that, and built a conceptual model based on fantasy.

  18. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ pmoran. The lymphangitis argument is brilliant! Thank you for sharing. One of the images resembles sections of the “lung” meridian.

  19. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ tmac57. I think with time the broader medical community will soon realize that they are dealing with a myth, or as I have called it a “cargo cult.”

  20. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Honam. Thank you very much for the reference. Do you have other images from the literature on the 9 tools?

  21. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ joemcveigh. Thank you for your comments. I will work on a journal article soon. I could not get the link on the Japanese Eyeball Poking to work. Please post it again, if possible.

  22. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ daedalus2u. You are right: pmoran should write on this. The lymphangitis hypothesis is very plausible and should be explored because it might explain the origins of many claims associated with bloodletting and related practices.

  23. Honam says:

    @ Ben Kavoussi

    I have found online 3 images, here:

    1st one is from Du Sijing 杜思敬, Zhenjing zhaiying ji 針經摘英集 (Yuan Dynasty, 1315 AD), pages 1-2, contained in the 3rd book of his Jisheng bacui 濟生拔萃.

    2nd one is the one I already refered.

    3rd one is from Wu Qian 吳謙, Yizhong jinjian 醫宗金鑒. ed. SKQS (四庫全書), book 79, unpaginated, but it would be pages 2a-7b. In my edition the explanations go for 5 pages. I don’t know if the image in the link exists inside the book (9282 pages to check) or if it is a collage of the different pages.

    1st and 2nd one explain the meassures and procedures in the same terms. 3rd one provides longer comments, since its 5 pages in recto and verso.

  24. tmac57 says:

    This is a little dated, but in honor of the “Toothpick Acupuncture Works” theory, I created an animation of one of my previous coments:

    Dale darlin’s Pick-N-Poke Toothpick Acupuncture Clinic

  25. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Honam. Thank you very much for the images. I will use them for upcoming posts.

  26. Doc says:

    Meridians and chakras are part of the subtle body’s are the physical body’s life force, chi or prana pump. You’ll need clairvoyant sight to see these in others. Yourself, other spirits/ghosts or possibly God help inject more life energy through the healer or patient and this meridian/chakra system is the interface to the physical body. The meridian/chakra system is not strictly a biophysical entity.

  27. Chris says:

    Is Doc a Poe?

  28. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Actually, chakras are originally meditation devices. During yoga meditation one has to visualise these (including the associated god, and Sanskrit letter, these have to be visualised too) together with an interconnecting network of colored tubes. They have the same kind of religious meaning as an aureole around the head of a saint.

    Western people, especially theosophes and new agers have interpreted the chakras as either physical entities or part of the so-called etheric double (a parallel invisible body) or subtle body.

  29. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Chris. On every post, there is someone who misses the whole point of the article, the site, and the scientific thinking process. We got used to it.

  30. Chris says:

    Yes, but often they are coherent. That just looks like a parody of a parody.

  31. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Chris. I hope so!

  32. joemcveigh says:

    @ Ben Kavoussi. No prob on the comment. I was just seconding what dt said. I think a journal article would be great, but when you’re dealing with these kind of topics, do you ever feel like you’re preaching to the choir? What’s the conversion rate to SBM among CAM users/believers?

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys. Thanks for posting my link correctly. I didn’t know what the etiquette was at SBM, so I wrote out the dot. It’s just an article about an idea I had while reading this article. Complete nonsense, other than an attempt at humor.

  33. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ joemcveigh. Indeed, I am preaching to the choir, although I have witnessed some conversion. The problem comes from the fact that many CAM apologists come from non-scientific backgrounds, and have little knowledge of the most basic biology. They know even less about the history of medicine. However, by writing these articles, I am also putting historical evidence in the hands of skeptics, so when healthcare policies about CAM are discussed at the national or state level, we have the right arguments against the obscurantism of CAM.

  34. Doc says:

    Jan said:

    “Actually, chakras are originally meditation devices. During yoga meditation one has to visualise these (including the associated god, and Sanskrit letter, these have to be visualised too) together with an interconnecting network of colored tubes. They have the same kind of religious meaning as an aureole around the head of a saint.

    Western people, especially theosophes and new agers have interpreted the chakras as either physical entities or part of the so-called etheric double (a parallel invisible body) or subtle body.”

    No that’s a naive view. The chakras have been stylized by some religions as petals and the like but that’s not the way they appear. You’ll have to meditate and see what “pops up” for you, I think you’re in store for a surprise.

    Most that actually know what they are talking about will just chuckle at the idea that the meridians or chakra system is some parts of the physical body. The place one needs to look is the subtle body.

  35. BillyJoe says:

    “You’ll have to meditate and see what “pops up” for you, I think you’re in store for a surprise.”


    It seems someone here thinks we were all born yesterday.
    Hey Doc, “in for a surprise”, is for children at christmas.

    Get outta here. :D

  36. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    @ Doc

    I find this discussion somehat bewildering, as if the subject is wat ‘really’ transpired after Hansel and Gretel entered the abode of the witch. The point is that chakras are figments of imagination (like Donald Duck or Santa Claus or Luke Skywalker), and they arose in a culture in which people were quite well aware of that.

    It is embarassing to see adults take fictions like ‘the subtle body’ for real. Let’s go back to the meridians: fairy tales about body channels thought up by ancient Chinese without the foggiest notion of anatomy, transmogrified by a diplomat an sinologue who knew acupuncture but probably not too much about anatomy either.

  37. Doc says:

    @ Jan

    Sound like you’re in denial. I’ve met Santa Claus and he’s wonderful.

    Seriously, if your belief system is getting in the way of finding the truth then I suggest you get some help.

    Another alternative is to just try to see if you have the ability to experience these things for yourself. Psychic phenomena are as real as 2 + 2 = 4 is true.

    Meditation is usually the first step.

    Also, stop hanging around nay-sayers, materialists, militant atheists and secular humanists. They may actually be bad for your health.

    In other words, be opening minded to the possibility that you are dead wrong, let go and give other things a try.

    You’ll be a better person.

  38. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    OK, I’m a Donald Duck denialist. Now let’s get back to acupuncture, meridians and the history of Chinese Medicine.

  39. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys, just as I replied to Chris, at every post we get off-topic and incoherent comments like this. The world of CAM is made of individuals with quasi-religious beliefs. I usually ignore their comments.

  40. Honam says:

    @ Ben Kavoussi

    Some notes:

    -“the ideogram zhēn (针), which has been mistranslated as “needle,” actually means any instrument of puncture, incision or penetration, such as a pin, lancet, needle or any other sharp device”.

    针 (鍼) zhen means needle (originally bone, later metal needles), as confirmed by its phonological relation with other languages. It was pronounced *kim (Zhou/Han), which is the same word in Vietnamese, proto-Tai (both pronounced “kim”), proto-Yao “*si:m” (< proto-Min "*tsim"), proto-Tibetan "kap", and the Mon-Khmer related languages "skam". (Axel Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese, UHP, 2007, p. 610). Also, the 九鍼 are only partially related to acupuncture, and the fact that such tools are called "needles" has to be explained diachronically, instead of uncritically assert that because in some late period "zhen" was used to designate small "lances", this was also the original sense (for example, the Suwen asserts that "jiu zhen" comes from the South of the ancient states, which means it was a foreign word that needed to be adapted). 九鍼 appears to be basically used in pre-Han times for ancient surgery in battlefields, that’s why they are spear–shaped.

    -“Cheng Dan’an (承淡安, 1899-1957) [...] He also replaced the coarse medieval tools with the fine needles we associate with acupuncture today”.

    However, we have the first hand testimony of Willem Ten Rhyne, who published his dissertation in 1683 (de Arthritide), that fine needles were used in acupuncture, along with many others works before Cheng (Notice of the Theory and Effects of Acupuncture, from Experiments made at the Hospital Saint Louis, by Pelletan, or Cases in which Acupuncture has been performed at the Hospital de la Pitié under the direction of M. Bally, by Meyranx, both from 1825, dealing basically with the possible dangers of using needles).

    Finally, if the relation between acupuncture and astrology did happened in many authors, it doesn't prove that this was the case in ancient times, or even the general idea in Medieval works. For example, Wang Chong, a philosopher who was skeptic of Fengshui, Mantic practises and some ancient form of Taiqi (gymnastic and respiratory movements in vogue in Zhou-Han times, already criticed by philosopher Zhuangzi), was not against acupuncture. So for this Han philosopher, astrology and acupuncture were unrelated. In order to prove such relation more testimonia than late Ming works should be used.

  41. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Honam, thank you for your input. I understand your concern, however, my main argument is that there are no real differences between the preindustrial medicine of Europe and China. One of the most important contributors to this is the spice trade by the Muslims who brought spices and medicines from the Far-East to the West. With the trade of medicines came the exchange of medical ideas.

  42. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Honam. In my 2009 post called Astrology with Needles, I presented venesection images from European manuals of bloodletting, which clearly overlap with key points described in the Chinese classics. This post shows that the tools described in the Chinese classics resemble the instruments of lancing and surgery in Europe, and have little resemblance to what is currently considered an acupuncture needle. This set of evidence indicates that what has been practiced in China since the Bronze-Age is not acupuncture as we know it, but bloodletting and surgery with bodkins and lancets.

  43. Doc says:

    @ Jan

    “OK, I’m a Donald Duck denialist. Now let’s get back to acupuncture, meridians and the history of Chinese Medicine.”

    I see, a very shielded upbringing.

    OK, I’ll do some of your homework for you. Start here:

    “Applied Channel Theory In Chinese Medicine. Wang Ju-Yi’s Lectures on Channel Therapeutics”

  44. Honam says:

    @ Ben Kavoussi

    I do not necesarily disagree with your conclusions, only with the arguments you used. For example:

    1. A Ming treasite (which is not a Classic, btw) is no evidence for the uses of acupuncture or medicine in general in Ancient China, Bronze Age or even Han. One problem could be that, being a Ming work, it may have been influenced by Europe’s medical theories, brought to China by the Jesuits (this is not the case, since the image appears also in a Yuan work, but it was not stated in the article, so it could be misleading).

    2. Further evidence should be provided, like Song representations of those instruments, Tang descriptions (due to development of printing technology, I doubt there is any drawing of these tools before Song, but maybe the Dunhuang mss. have some), and archeological evidence from these periods or even previous ones.

    3. The Suwen by itself does not prove anything, since the datation of that work is problematic, and, again, it affirms that the “nine tools” came from the south states, i.e., were not used in the central states. In fact, the Suwen tries to justify the “nine tools” using cosmological correlations and “ying” (resonating) theory, nothing else. The Lingshu book is the one who compilates the sizes of these tools. It should be explained why the “Huangdi Neijing” makes an astrological correlation between these theories and medicine, while Wang Chong denies it. If this is related with different schools of thought, we should avoid falling in a cultural Peter Pan complex: Chinese thought is not a unity, and there is no reason to consider the “Huangdi Neijing” astrological claim over Wang Chong’s skepticism.

    4. Once again, description of the tools accompanying the drawings show they were not used for acupuncture, but acupuncture was just one of the uses the needles had. Giving the amount of medicinal works that flourished after Ming, it is surprising that these tools were not dealt with more usually.

  45. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Honam. Thank you very much for all the precisions you give here. I just wanted to emphasize that the fact that something is called “needle,” does not mean that it is a fine needle, as we know it today. For instance knitting tools, which are called in both English and French “knitting needles” (aiguilles à tricoter) are far from being fine needles! The same thing applies to the “needles” of lancing and surgery in China.

  46. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    I would like to point out that George Soulié de Morant (1878 – 1955) was not a French delegate. He worked as interpreter in the court of law for the French consulate. Only after his return to France he was made ‘honorary consul’. See

    where Hanjo Lehman argues that Soulié probably never saw acupuncture practiced in China; much of what Soulié writes bears no relation at all to acupuncture as decribed in Chinese sources. Lehman even doubts that Soulié knew a lot of Chinese, but Soulié’s biography says that he learnt Chinese from the age of eight on from two teachers. After his return from China he spent 18 years writing books on Chinese art, history and literature, and only then started explaining to the world that he acquired full practical knowledge of acupuncture in China.

  47. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys

    Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this.

  48. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys

    I tried to contact Dr. Lehman at the email listed on the article, but it did not work. Do you have a different address for him?


  49. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:


    mail [at]
    They both work, as Lehmann told me.

    Note I made a typing error, it’s Lehmann with double n.

  50. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys,

    Thank you very much. We translated his artifice, and I will post it soon–either here or at a similar site.

  51. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Lehmann even doubts that Soulié knew a lot of Chinese, but Soulié’s biography says that he learnt Chinese from the age of eight on from two teachers.

    I had contact with Lehmann, and he has pointed out a site with biographical details of Soulié

    but even if it is true what is told about Soulié’s Chinese education, it is highly doubtful that he learned enough of the classical Chinese used for writing then to be of any use. Mastering classical Chinese would take a Chinese high school student just as much effort as it would be for a Western student to master Latin.

    There is really a big difference between able to keep up a simple Chinese conversation and the ability to read and write classical Chinese.

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