A Brief Interlude on the Original Bronze Acupuncture Statue
by Eric Brand
Most acupuncturists are familiar with the Tong Ren, a bronze acupuncture statue that was used in China’s Imperial medical school from the Song dynasty until the dawn of the modern era. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog, the image of the Tong Ren that most of us are familiar with is not what the Tong Ren initially looked like.
A replica of the original Song dynasty image is pictured above. I took this photograph at the museum of Chinese medical history at Hong Kong Baptist University, which is one of the few places in the world where a replica of the original is displayed. Notice the different proportions and the more curved, sensual features of the Song original relative to the rather stoic and square Qing dynasty statue.
The Song dynasty original is called the “Tiansheng” bronze statue. It is thus named because the two original statues were created by a government medical officer named Wang Wei-Yi in the 5th year of “Tiansheng” during the Northern Song dynastic period (1027 CE). 657 acupuncture points were carved into each statue, and the statues served as the first national standard for acupuncture point location.
The concept was ingenious; each point had a hole about 1.2 cm deep, and the statue was covered in wax and filled with water. For instruction and examinations, points were located and the statue was needled. If the location was correct, the needle penetrated the wax and allowed water to leak out. The Tong Ren was thus one of the most sophisticated educational tools in early medical history.
By the time of the Ming dynasty (starting in 1368 CE), the acupuncture points were no longer recognizable on the original Song dynasty statues. According to the museum at HKBU, Emperor Ying of the Ming dynasty ordered the creation of a replica of the Song dynasty statue, which some scholars believe is now located in Russia.
Maybe I am just a nerd, but I find these historical tidbits fascinating and I can’t help but share this information with our readers.