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Other Heritage Entries
Cover Stories Series 2012> Living, Breathing Heritage> Other Heritage Entries
UPDATED: December 13, 2010 NO. 50 DECEMBER 16, 2010
Magic Needles
Acupuncture and moxibustion inscribed on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage

HANDS ON: Chinese and foreign medical students study acupuncture and moxibustion in Shenyang Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital (XINHUA)

"Acupuncture and moxibustion have a very wide application range. But, the therapies have caught up with the pace of the development of modern medicine and lack evidence-based theory to support them. This eventually meant this treatment approach became only a recovery method, severely limiting its efficacy," said Shen Weidong, Director of the Acupuncture and Moxibustion Department of Shuguang Hospital in Shanghai.

Besides, treatment charges for Chinese medicine are much lower than for Western medicine, which has led to many Chinese medicine hospitals and practitioners turning to the Western variety. Consequently, acupuncture and moxibustion have not been fully able to show their real value.

On November 24, at the press conference about the successful application for inscription on the UNESCO list, Wang Guoqiang, Vice Minister of Chinese Ministry of Health, said the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine would work out a practical plan to protect and develop the traditional therapies. It is also planning to explore effective ways of passing on the techniques, identifying skilled practitioners and setting up a full archive of important medical books.

"Without any doubt, acupuncture and moxibustion becoming an intangible cultural heritage give us a chance to promote the protection, passing on and innovation in Chinese medicine. It will also add weight to Chinese medicine and urge the government to pay more attention to its development. Meanwhile, we should take this opportunity to intensify our efforts to introduce Chinese medicine to the whole world, contributing to the health of mankind," Wang said.

He also said China would make practical plans for the publicity and protection of Chinese medicine. First, he said, the value of traditional acupuncture and moxibustion needs to be further studied, and then analyzing work should be done to decide what are key aspects to protect.

"We will explore more and effective inheritance models for it on the basis of preserving traditional ways. For instance, setting up a special work studio for acupuncturists could provide better conditions for the heritage and perfect its mechanisms," he said.

Wang also said further work would be scheduled, including building a museum of acupuncture and moxibustion to display related historic relics and materials, and ancient books and records of traditional techniques; compiling, recording and publishing the tales of experienced acupuncturists; and organizing seminars for exchanges of experience and techniques.

Step to the world

One thousand years ago, acupuncture and moxibustion spread from China to surrounding countries such as Korea, Japan, Viet Nam, and elsewhere in East Asia. The treatments were introduced to Europe by Western missionaries but didn't gain a flourishing hold in the West.

Not until 1972 when President Richard Nixon visited China, did acupuncture and moxibustion gain wide attention in the Western world. James Reston, a well-known New York Times reporter who accompanied Nixon during the visit, received acupuncture in China for post-operative pain after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. He was astonished at the miraculous easing brought on by the therapy and reported about it upon returning to the United States.

At present, Chinese medicine has gained wide acceptance in the world. Every year, among foreigners who study natural sciences in China, Chinese medicine and acupuncture majors account for the greatest proportion. Every year Shuguang Hospital enrolls many short-term international training students, 90 percent of whom are there to learn acupuncture, Professor Shen said.

Statistics of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies show currently there are at least 200,000 practicing acupuncturists abroad while the annual output of the industry reaches $10 billion.

In the United States, acupuncture is authorized in every state. There are more than 50 schools teaching acupuncture and moxibustion in the United States. The number of certificated acupuncturists in the United States has passed 14,000.

In European countries such as France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Holland, there is at least one Chinese medicine clinic or acupuncture clinic for every 15,000 citizens.

In Britain, acupuncture and moxibustion schools began to set up during the 1980s. The British Medical Acupuncture Society says the number of people receiving acupuncture and moxibustion treatment has "obviously" increased in recent years. There are several thousand professional acupuncturists in Britain; most of them are British, but a few came from China.

In the process of acupuncture and moxibustion spreading to the world, its standardization is very necessary. Wang said most standards of the therapy came from the practice of Chinese medicine, and China, as well as the WHO, are also making efforts in the standardization work.

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