A Standard International Acupuncture Nomenclature: Memorandum from a WHO Meeting

Bulletin of the World Health Organization, March-April 1990 | Go to article overview
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A Standard International Acupuncture Nomenclature: Memorandum from a WHO Meeting


Historical perspective

Acupuncture--a unique system for the relief of pain and for treatment--has been in constant use throughout the Chinese culture-area for some 2500 years. it developed first during the Chou period (1st millennium BC) and its theory and practice were already well systematized in the early Han period (2nd century BC). These are immortalized in the Huang Ti Nei Ching (The Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic or Canon of Medicine), consisting of two parts, the Su Wen (2nd century BC) and the Ling Shu (1st century BC) [1]. These texts give descriptions of where the twelve regular acupuncture tracts (main meridians) begin and end, their anatomical courses having remained without any serious modification for over 2000 years. By approximately 300 AD, the development of the whole system was complete. A large proportion of the classical acupuncture point names in current use are to be found in the Nei Ching, Su Wen and Ling Shu.

The practice of acupuncture during its long history in China, Japan and the Far East has been periods of decline; it was even banned or was neglected with the advent of modern Western medicine. The last four decades, however, have been marked by the great importance attached by the Chinese authorities to traditional Chinese medicine in general and to acupuncture in particular. Concurrently, in the West, there has been a growing interest in the therapeutic applications of acupuncture and in the search for explanations of its modes of action, in terms of modern scientific knowledge. In the past twenty years, many new acupuncture points have been recognized, notably in connection with auricular acupuncture.

With this unprecedented expansion of interest in acupuncture and the objective assessment of its effects in physiological and pharmacological terms, the need for a standard international acupuncture nomenclature has become increasingly apparent.

Towards a standard nomenclature

The need for a common language to facilitate the teaching, research, clinical practice and exchange of information on acupuncture at the global level has long been recognized [2]. Because of the vastness of China with its many dialects, and because acupuncture has long been an important part of medical practice in neighbouring countries in the Far East, considerable difficulties have arisen in communication and information exchange. For example, acupuncture points have a number of different names; differences in the pronunciation of the original Chinese characters have caused mistakes and created misunderstanding. Acupuncturists in other countries have sometimes mistranslated the Chinese names of the points, and this has led to additional discrepancies.

Efforts have been made in China and Japan to develop a uniform nomenclature. In 1965, a Japanese Meridian and Points Committee was established and recommended Japanese names and an international numbering system for each acupuncture point. In China, the All China Acupuncture and Moxibustion Society subsequently set up a Nomenclature Committee, which developed a national system of names. Since then, other countries have formed their own committees but important differences still exits.

In October 1980, a WHO Consultant visited the People's Republic of China to review th existing nomenclature and to identify the need for uniformity, with the ultimate objective of developing an internationally acceptable standard nomenclature. Chinese and Japanese experts subsequently met five times in 1981 and 1982 to formulate guiding principles that would lead to the standardization of acupuncture nomenclature. However, because of the complexities of the issues involved, consensus could not be reached.

A critical evaluation of the consultant's report and recommendations prompted the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific to organize the first WHO Regional Working Group on the Standardization of Acupuncture NOmenclature, which met in Manila in December 1982.

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