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Men of Bronze

19 April 2009
 

Acupuncture was first invented by Chinese thousands years ago, and whoever studies acupuncture must have learned the legend about China's "Bronze Men of Acupuncture" (针灸铜人).

Bronze Men are statues of man made of bronze in life size. They were created in Song Dynasty and then kidnapped by Jin tribesmen invaded China from north, and then cloned in full during Ming Dynasty, and then copied again, but with empty facade only containing no contents within, since the modern technology in some certain fields are not as advanced as that during China's Song and Ming eras.

It is said that in the time of Song dynasty, acupuncture treatment was extremely popular, and doctors with needle skills were in high demand, which attracted many less qualified practitioners to try their hand and resulted increased incidents of mistreatment. When Emperor Renzong (宋仁宗赵祯) learned the massy situation, he ordered to issue the national standard for acupuncture point locations. Thus in the year 1026, Dr Wang Weiyi (王惟一), a chief medical officer, complied New Standard Acupuncture Points Diagrams (《新铸铜人腧穴针灸图经》), and one year later a pair of life-sized bronze men with 365 acupoints on the body were crafted.

The bronze men measured 1.73 tall in standing posture with both palms facing the viewer. The whole body was assembled from front and back two parts and could be dismantled to see the bones, muscles and organs inside - evidently China's anatomic medicine was developed at least 800 years earlier than that in the West. The acupoints on the bronze men are meticulously explained in New Standard Acupuncture Points Diagrams which was carved onto a dozen of stone tablets to make sure the contents would never be destroyed.

Initially one of the bronze men was kept in government-run medical college (医官院) used for training, and the other was housed in the Hall of Benevolent Relieve (仁济殿) of the Buddhist monastery Great Premier Temple (大相国寺) at capital Dongjing (东京) in today's Kaifeng (开封), Henan Province (河南). Since then, the medical students needed to pass the strict test on the bronze man before receiving a licence to practice acupuncture.

Prior to each test, all the acupoints on the bronze man would be sealed by honey wax and made invisible. During the examination, a teacher uttered the name of a point and the student had to prick the needle into the corresponding acupoints. If he hit the right spot, a few drops of liquid would be discharged; and if the student struck the right pints for five consecutive times, he would pass the test and became a full licensed doctor.

The secret to the un-exhausted effluent liquid lies in the dual-layer structure of the bronze men's body, so the liquid could be re-filled through a hole at the top of the skull that was covered with a hair bun.

Sadly, the national treasure was looted a century later by tribesmen Jin of Siberian origin, the ancestors of the later Manchurians, and so far no one knows their fate.

Several hundred years after when Chinese drove out the invaded culture destroyers and once again united the whole China under the banner of great Ming, bronze men were recreated in large quantities. Even though centuries later the Manchurians returned, one bronze man made during the Ming did have survived to this day and currently is reported to be on public exhibition in China's Intangible Cultural Heritage Show (中国非物质文化遗产传统技艺大展) held at Beijing National Agriculture Exhibition Centre (农业展览馆).

Over the years, Mr Wan Li (万俐), a conservation expert in Nanjing Museum, has crafted 6 bronze men with acupoints on the skin, including the one for an acupuncture clinic in Germany, but none of them has recreated the technique wonder that is reflected in the production of the bronze men of the Song and the Ming. To start with, the coating of the Ming bronze men, that gives the skin a healthy sun-tanning appearance, contains some special Chinese medicine materials, and these materials are no longer available today.

(Reference: 科技日报)

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There are two towers in the ancient Buddhist monastery Zongfosiyuan (勐卧总佛寺院) in Yunnan's Ethnic Minority Yi Self-Autonomy Region, and both were built in 1644, the final year of the Ming Dynasty. 300 years on, they have formed two joint teams with a pair of giant Bodhi Trees, with a twist: one hides the tree (亮剑?), one hides inside the tree (潜伏?). They've witnessed the rise and the fall of the Manchurian dynasty. He who laughs last, laughs best, no matter he is a man, a tree or a brick structure.

(Source of info & photos: 新华社记者陈海宁摄)



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