Tung Acupuncture Historical Musings (Repost)

I originally posted this back in 2015, but the topic came up in a recent class I was teaching so I thought I'd post again with some edits... Enjoy!

The Tung (Dong 董) lineage of classical acupuncture claims a history that stretches back to the Han dynasty (206ACE – 220BCE). However, as is the case with many other private family lineages, we cannot with any academic certainty verify this claim. There are some hints however in how the system is organized and presented that tease us and perhaps point to a long pedigree.

First, of all the channels of regular acupuncture, the one that is least represented in Tung’s system is the Heart Channel. In fact, in Tung’s original book from 1973 there was only 1 point located on the modern Heart channel – Shou Jie 22.10 (overlapping Shao Fu HT-8). In the early medical classics, such as those unearthed at Ma Wang Dui in the early 1970s, there were 11 vessels, but no vessel that corresponds to the modern Heart channel. Likewise, the modern points of the Heart channel did not exist in the Huang Di Nei Jing or Nan Jing. For example, in the Jiu Zhen Shi Er Yuan (九鍼十二原, Ling Shu Chapter 2), the Yuan-source point of the Heart is listed as Da Ling PC-7 大陵穴. The modern Pericardium channel often was the acupuncture channel of choice for treating Heart.

In Tung’s acupuncture many of the points used to treat “Heart” problems such as cardiovascular disease, palpitations, or chest pain, are related to the Pericardium channel. Notice that Shou Jie 22.10, although located on the Heart channel proper, is not indicated for cardiac problems. For example, Ren Shi 33.13, a point that treats heart disease and palpitations, is located on the Pericardium channel (at least by some practitioners). Other points that treat Heart problems are notably located on the Stomach channel – Huo Bao 55.01, the Si Hua points, and the Zu San Tong Dao Ma group (i.e., 88.01, 02, 03). The Yangming Stomach channel treats Heart because it has a relationship to the Jueyin Pericardium (through the Wu Zang Bie Tong 五臟別通 pairings). In the early Chinese language dictionary the Shuo Wen Jie Zi the Heart is defined as the “the human Heart, the Earth Zang-viscera, located at the center of the body” (心:人心,土藏,在身之中), showing us that in very ancient times there was a close conceptual connection between the Heart and the Earth phase. In modern acupuncture theory the channel that most closely correlates to that constellation is the Pericardium. Thus, the location of “Heart” points in Tung’s acupuncture (mostly being related to Pericardium) may give away a hint at the system’s antiquity.

The other interesting piece of information on which to speculate is the “reaction areas” that were given in Tung’s original book. The term “reaction area” is an apologetic translation of Shen Jing 神經 – nerve. Nerve was the term that Tung chose to approximate, in modern ‘scientific’ language, the word “channel” – Jing 經. Therefore, Tung would have originally said that, for example, the Zu San Tong 足三通 points were the “Heart channel” since they are listed in his book as having the Heart reaction area. In modern acupuncture all the channels, with the exception of the Eight Extraordinary Vessels, are named after Zang or Fu, so some of the reaction areas in Tung’s acupuncture are easy to understand. That said, some points in Tung’s system are given reaction areas that are body parts other than the Zang Fu. For example, Ce San Li 77.22 and Ce Xia San Li 77.23 are listed as the reaction area of the teeth. Si Zhi 77.20 has a reaction area of the four limbs. So, does this mean that originally Tung considered them related to the Tooth Channel or the Four Limbs channel? That doesn’t sounds like Chinese medicine. Or does it?

It turns out that in the very early medical literature, there were some acupuncture traditions that named channels after body parts other than the Zang Fu. In the Ma Wang Dui medical manuscripts (that date to the turn of the Han dynasty) there is a manuscript called the Yin Yang Shi Yi Mai Jiu Jing Jia Ben (Cauterization Cannon of the Eleven Yin and Yang Vessels, Edition A 陰陽十一脈灸經甲本). That treatise lists a "shoulder vessel" (corresponding to the modern Arm Taiyang), an "ear vessel" (corresponding to the Arm Shaoyang), and a "tooth vessel" (corresponding to the Arm Yangming). So, in at least one very early moxibustion lineage/tradition, there was a custom of naming some channels after body parts rather than a Zang Fu or a channel layer. And there was a Tooth Channel! The Tung lineage custom of naming channels after body parts seems to be not so unique. Also, perhaps this again argues for the veracity of the Tung family's claim of how old their system is.

All of this is certainly wild speculation, and it isn’t historically convincing. Yet, the coincidences are fun to play with. Perhaps we are all practicing the descendant of something very ancient that has survived alongside many other, more dominant traditions. Perhaps it is a modern link to a very ancient system of practice, even older than other “classical” acupuncture. Or perhaps not…



Harper D. Early Chinese Medical Literature. London: Kegan Paul International, 1998; pp.206-207.

Tung, C.C. (1973) 董氏針灸正經奇穴學 [Tung Lineage Acupuncture Study of Orthodox Channel Curious Points]. Taipei: Hsin Ya Publications Ltd.