Making an acupuncture needle in ancient times

Nowadays acupuncture needles are always made from stainless steel, because of the material’s advantages in strength, toughness, smoothness and rust prevention. The production of needles is machine manufacturing. And the sales of needles are always one hundred pieces per package or one thousand pieces per package. Disposable needles have completely taken the place of reusable needles. In the European market, flat-handle needles, which are called Korean-style needles, are more popular than traditional Chinese needles, which have a handle with a loop.

Do you know how acupuncture needles were made in ancient China? „Zhen Jiu Da Cheng”, a specialized book about acupuncture and moxa therapy, which was firstly published in 1601, introduces the production of iron needles.

The material of iron needles is from an iron bit that has already been used by a horse. According to the theory of five elements, a horse is classified as fire. Fire restrains metal, so in the opinion of ancient Chinese people, an iron bit that has been used by a horse has lost the toxicity of iron.

The material is made into a long thin iron wire. The wire is burnt red, and then is cut into a lot of iron wires with different lengths.

After coating the iron wires with the venom of toads, the iron wires are slightly burnt but are not burnt red. Then the iron wires are coated with the venom of toads again and are slightly burnt. The venom of toads has the anesthetic effect. Ancient Chinese thought that the processing could reduce the pain of a patient when the needles are used in an acupuncture therapy.

After the iron wires are coated with the venom of toads for the third time and are slightly burnt, the hot iron wires are inserted into the skin of cured meat.

The iron wires with meat are put into the water decoction of a recipe until water boils dry. The recipe includes herbs, fragrant medicinal materials, mineral medicinal materials and animal medicinal materials. During needle production, the recipe should be the processing with the highest cost. Ancient Chinese thought that the effects of the medicinal materials could infiltrate into needles and make the needles more effective to regulate the Qi of the meridian system.

The iron wires are put into water. After becoming cold, the iron wires are repeatedly inserted into yellow soil for more than one hundred times for making them smooth and shiny. The process is also for removing the fire’s toxicity which is from the burning process.

A copper wire is twined around an iron wire for making a copper handle.

The point of each iron wire is carefully sharpened. The point is very tiny and round like a pine needle. It is not a sharp edge like a blade. So it can be smoothly penetrated into an acupuncture point but doesn’t cause a injury.

Because in ancient times the production procedure was complicated and the cost of used medicinal materials was high, acupuncture needles were on-demand customized products. Ancient therapists of traditional Chinese medicine took good care of their needles for making the needles durable. They chose acupuncture points carefully, so acupuncture points used by a therapy were not a lot but effective.

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