Often when I see writings about Chinese medicine, including my own, there’s some mention about how old it is, which is thousands of years.
Sometimes we may be highlighting this, in part, to help substantiate it, as if to lend credence. Of course, just because something’s old doesn’t make it better, nor does it make it worse. But with thousands of years of practice, it does mean that there’s been a lot of experience, many treatments, and many patients.
Even if one can’t quickly go find the perfectly matching RCT (randomized-controlled trial) that best matches the condition for which one seeks medical evidence of efficacy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that acupuncture hasn’t helped someone with it before. It also doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (might need translation.)
So, how old is this medicine?
A longer timeline of Chinese medical history can be found at http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/history/chronology.html , but summarized parts of it (with my notes) are here:
~2000 BC, Antiquity: Yellow Emperor & Shen-nong: They are said to be the founders of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
1700-1100 BC, Shang: Inscriptions on bones describe the use of wine and hot water, use of needles and knives for surgical instruments, diseases and illnesses discussed.
1100-221 BC, Zhou Dynasty: Organized medical system in the emperor’s court. Specialties in surgery, diet, disease, veterinarians. The Huang Di Nei Jing: The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic: A&P of the human body. Foundation for TCM. Yin Yang and Five Element Theory.
221 BC-220 AD, Qin and Han Dynasties: Earliest reference to Chinese pharmacology: Shennong Bencaojing. List of 365 Chinese medicines and herb prescriptions / combos. Zhang Zhongjing: establishes diagnosis based on signs and symptoms. Shang Han Lun
220-580 AD, Chinese Middle Ages: Pulse Classic. Earliest complete reference guide to acupuncture and moxibustion. 349 acupuncture points with therapeutic properties for each. A handbook written for Emergencies.
618-907 AD, Sui and Tang Dynasties: Imperial Medical Academy. The first medical encyclopedia comprised of 30 volumes and 5,300 prescriptions, also disease prevention and health preservation. (Sun Si Miao) — NOTE: Preventive health!
960-1279 AD Song Dynasty: First official prescription book with 16,834 prescriptions. (weblink lists ~40 books/treatises during this period) — NOTE: That’s a lot of prescriptions!
More dynasties and many more books: The Jin Yuan period, Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, Modern China (1950 future medical policy to include both Chinese and Western medicine options)…
There’s been a lot of time to practice, theorize, iterate, publish, proliferate, and evolve.