81Difficult QuestionsDr Bartosz Chmielnicki and Rani Ayal


Chinese Medicine is a logical and coherent system, attempting to fully describe the different layers and manifestations of human reality.

At first glance it is very simple to understand its basic theories: Yin/Yang, Heaven-Man-Earth, Four Directions, Five Elements, Six Divisions…

But as the theories interact, complement and influence each other, the translation from theory to practice becomes complicated. As a result of this a great number of Chinese Medicine practitioners use very simplified versions of this marvelous medical system and many patients suffer from its lowered effectiveness.

The problem, however, isn’t new. Chinese Medicine developed from the very beginning of history through a process of melting and mixing of different traditions. There was always a need for further explanations. That is why, shortly after the first medical classics – the 81 chapters of the NeiJing SuWen  ("Basic Questions (of) Internal Medicine”) and the 81chapters of the Ling Shu ("Spiritual Pivot"), there was a need for another book: the NanJing - the "Classic of Difficult Questions" discussing discrepancies in the earlier texts.

Then, through the centuries, Chinese Medicine evolved and changed through the interactions with other medical traditions. Moreover, in addition to the main current of knowledge represented by the Imperial Academy, there were many family traditions existing in different cities and villages making Chinese Medicine very heterogenic and rich in completely different ideas and approaches to the information from the classics.

After the 2nd World War, in the 1950's, the Chinese communists wanted to distinguish themselves from the Russian communists. They decided to promote everything related to Chinese history and the Chinese way of thinking.  TCM, created in China in those days, is a very simplified and unified version of Chinese Medicine, and was invented in order to be integrated with western medical science. The process of simplification resulted in many understatements and misunderstandings, especially in the field of acupuncture.

As a result of all those processes, in modern acupuncture clinics all around the world, many acupuncture points are underused or misused due to poor understanding of their physiology, actions and importance. In addition, the art of examining the pulse, which used to have fundamental meaning for the diagnostic process and the choosing of points, also tends to be underused and poorly understood.

Contemporary nomenclature of acupuncture point's names makes the situation even more unclear. Western authors, practitioners and students denote acupuncture points using the abbreviation of the name of the channel on which the point is located and the number describing the succession of points on that channel. But names like Lu-3 or Liv-4 don’t communicate any information about the function of those points…

The ancient Chinese, when describing the meridian system, gave specific names to each point. Those names, each one consisting of two or three Chinese characters, are full of meaning: Chinese is a language of symbols. The symbols denoting acupuncture points were used to communicate information to those who knew how to read them. Understanding different aspects of Chinese culture, like Yi Jing and astrology, Feng Shui and architecture, geography, music, literature, religious rites and more, it is possible to decode the names of the acupuncture points and to discover a great amount of information hidden within.

A few years ago, we began an on-going project: researching the meaning hidden behind the acupuncture point's names. The project is evolving in three phases:

First of all we wanted to gather the knowledge about acupuncture points and their names from different sources, classic and modern, which resulted in a great amount of information. Unfortunately many authors speculate about the meaning of Chinese names and create their own stories based on more or less romantic visions of Chinese culture and ways of thinking. Other scholars are 'western orientated', describing only a very superficial layer of understanding of the names, explaining mostly their anatomical location. And the ancient Chinese texts are always open to interpretation…

 We then came to the understanding that there is a need to check, in practice, the clinical relevance of information obtained from different sources. This is a very long but important process, allowing us to weed out romantic visions from practical knowledge, useful in the clinic. We invite all practitioners of acupuncture to help us continue this journey.

The last phase of the project is to code the relevant data again, but in a form understandable for the modern recipient of information who was raised in the Western culture. We have done this by creating pictures symbolizing all 361 acupuncture points, their names, main qualities and actions.

Working on this project we met many interesting points rarely used today, and many others that are used for “strange” indications without well-explained reasons. We tried to find and describe those reasons, hidden in lost traditions or in schools of thoughts which are not popular nowadays. Some of the most interesting examples of those points were chosen to be presented during the ICCM congress in March 2015 in a seminar called “81 Difficult Questions”. The way of explaining them will be as classical as the title- in the form of a discussion between a teacher and his student.

This post is also available in: Hebrew

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