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Chōng meridian 衝脈 an ancient Chinese description of the vascular system?
  1. Vivien Shaw
  1. Correspondence to Vivien Shaw, Department of Physiology Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Training Centre, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PL, UK; vivien.shaw{at}dpag.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

The objectives of this research are, first, to establish if the extraordinary acupuncture meridian known as Chōng (衝脈), Penetrating Vessel or Sea of Blood, is in essence a description of certain macroscopic parts of the underlying vascular system and, second, by extension, to show that it is likely that cadaveric dissection would have been used as a tool to arrive at this understanding. Generally accepted scholarly opinion holds that the ancient Chinese rarely used dissection in order to explore the anatomy of the human body, and that the meridians are therefore invisible metaphysical structures corresponding to lines drawn on the body. However, the seminal text, ‘The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine’, describes using palpation to examine the living and dissection to examine the dead. This implies that the original authors of these texts were observing physical structures visible to the naked eye. Dissection has therefore been used to compare the descriptions of the Chōng meridian in ‘The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine’ with the vascular anatomy of the human body. Fifteen acupuncture points located on various different ordinary meridians but bearing the same name, Chōng (衝/ 沖), were also examined to see if they bore any relationship to the vascular system. The dissections clearly show that the Chōng meridian correlates to certain main blood vessels in the body, in particular the vena cava. Similarly, most Chōng acupuncture points have a strong correspondence with blood vessels, marking terminal arteries on the hands, feet and forehead and anastomoses on the face, body and feet. These findings strongly suggest that the ancient Chinese texts relating to this meridian are likely to have been a ‘description’ of the vascular system. Furthermore, the ancient Chinese apparently had a high degree of anatomical skill in the practice of dissection and acute powers of observation.

  • ACUPUNCTURE
  • MEDICAL HISTORY

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