The story described that Pien Chueh had employed heat treatment to cure the prince and this could be a reference to moxibustion - a therapeutic technique that is employed by physicians even to this day. Moxibustion involves stimulating the acupuncture points by using heat. The technique derives its name from an herb called moxa, which is set on fire to provide the heat. Although the basic technique of moxibustion remains the same, in contemporary times, acupuncturists fasten a tiny amount of moxa at the end of the needle that has been already planted into an acupuncture point of the patient and light it up, enabling the heat generated to travel along the needle and into the acupuncture point evading the hazard of blazing the skin. However, the original method involved placing some moxa directly on the skin or on a piece of ginger positioned on the pertinent acupuncture point and burning the herb. Even now, a few acupuncturists follow this ancient method of moxibustion.
However, the precise manner in which moxibustion plays a part in the acupuncture is yet to be ascertained. as a number of ancient literature that have been discovered talks about moxa, but does not make any reference of acupuncture, a section of people are of the view that moxibustion has been in existence even before the advent of acupuncture. Despite the fact that these ancient texts were discovered in a tomb that was constructed during the Han dynasty (between 206 B.C. and A.D. 220 - the period during which people have been already extensively using acupuncture), possibly these texts were copies of other books that were even much older. Moreover, while moxa has been therapeutically employed for several centuries, it is assumed that people were possibly aware of the curative attribute of applying warmth to the acupuncture points much before they discovered the medicinal attributes of burning the leaves of moxa and even much before therapists used needles to heal the acupuncture points. Probably before the advent of needles, people first used things like grass and twigs to create an effect similar to that of the acupuncture needles. Documents available reveal that earlier, people have been using a variety of other materials, for instance, bamboo, charcoal, sulfur and others, for this purpose.
Similar to cannabis or the dried leaves of the other noxious plant tobacco, moxa also burns gradually and is mainly used for treating ailments that are generally attributed to dampness or cold. While moxa has been and continues to be a very helpful herb in its native China, it has been used far more extensively in Japan. As Japan comprises a group of islands, the climate there is much clammier compared to the vast spread of China and, hence, the occurrence of diseases related to dampness is much more in this island nation. Therefore, it would be most appropriate that the name 'moxa', as it is known in the West, has originated in Japan - derived from two Japanese words, which, when translated into English denoted 'burning herb'. In China, moxa is known as 'chiu', which denotes 'to blister or cauterize'.
It is believed that the medicinal value associated with burning the acupuncture points may have been discovered accidentally. Since acupuncture is a very ancient therapy, it is very difficult to ascertain its origins and today people are in total darkness regarding its beginning. It is strange indeed that despite considering the numerous primeval allegories and folk heroes, there is no single myth that explains as to how it actually started off. Among the several theories that have been proposed, the burn theory is one and it hints that in ancient times when people crowd around fires with a view to cook their foods as well as keep them warm they might have often been burnt by flying flickers. It is assumed that if the sparks landed on them, especially burning the precise acupuncture points, it is possible that they might have been incredibly cured of a variety of ailments endured by them. When such 'miracles' occurred a few times and to several people, it is possible that they may have begun realizing that one way or the other these specific points on their bodies had curative properties.
When a particular point is stimulated, some patients will experience a feeling that will continue all the way through the meridian on which the point lies. In the case of other patients, you are able to see a flush flow along the meridian's line when a needle is inserted into a point. It is believed that founded on this perception the Chinese may have possibly begun working to find a network of lines that connected the joints in concert - the precursor of meridians, as we know them now. Moreover, it might have seemed to these ancient people that they could therapeutically utilize these points by burning them, because burning seemed to result in the curative effects. Hence, this helps to establish the theory that treating the acupuncture points by means of moxa burning was possibly worked out much ahead of acupuncture itself.
What is fascinating about acupuncture is the discovery of the fact that even in its initial days this ancient mode of treatment was no limited only to China. The body of a man was discovered about 10,000 feet on a glacier on Italy's northern border in 1991. It was found that the man had died about 5,000 years back, but ice had preserved the body perfectly. When the body was examined, it was found that the person had an arthritic problem which made him endure back and hip pain. It was also discovered that the body had mysterious tattoos on the ailing joints as well as the feet. Further examination revealed that these tattoos were made on different acupuncture points.
If this case is true that people in Europe used acupuncture as far back as 5,000 years, there is another mystery. While we are still not sure regarding the origin as well as the reason behind the development of acupuncture, now we are also in the darkness as to why acupuncture continues to flourish in China, while it became extinct in other places. However, what is certain is that when people had discovered the acupuncture points, no matter how, they perhaps experimented with different techniques to stimulate them. It is likely that pointed flints or stones, which are referred to as bian stones, were the earliest tools for performing acupuncture. However, the use of these objects must have been restricted owing to their shape as well as size and, hence, it is likely the bian stones were only used to scrape, or perhaps to prick, the acupuncture points located on the meridians. In addition, it has been found that these primitive people also used sharp fragments of pottery. The instruments that were developed in the next phase were slightly adaptable. Subsequently, bamboos and sharpened bones were used as acupuncture instruments - in fact, it was possible to shape these like needles.
Nevertheless, the manufacture of needles, which could be put into a patient's skin and the layer underneath it, was only possible after man had discovered the technique to smelt metals.
With the availability of various types of metals - for instance, iron, silver, bronze and also gold, people started using them to make the first acupuncture needles. Acupuncture needles made from gold and silver were discovered from the tomb of Prince Liu Sheng, who belonged to the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. and A.D. 24). Considering the fact that acupuncture needles were also included among the burial items of this Han dynasty prince, it may be assumed that people in that era believed that they might require healthcare in heaven too.
Compared to other substances like stones, bones and even bamboo, which the ancient acupuncturists used initially, metal was much more adaptable and, hence, now they were able to make needles of differing shapes that were employed for dissimilar techniques. It is presumed that the metallic needles were initially made inadvertently, because in the earliest stage processing metals was somewhat rudimentary and it is difficult to imagine that they could make the same needles every time they wanted. Nevertheless, near the beginning, acupuncturists may have possibly recognized that needles with different shapes have different effects. Hence, with the improvement in the smithing quality, they were able to place orders for precise shapes of needles that were found to be very useful.