Crude forms of acupuncture seem to have been practised at various times in many parts of the world, but only in China did the technique attain the status of a major sophisticated form of therapy. Even in China, however, acupuncture was never the only or even the main form of treatment; many more of the classical texts deal with herbalism than with acupuncture. To understand acupuncture one has to set it within the context of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a whole, and indeed it has to be set against the background of Chinese science and philosophy in general.
The essential source book for ancient Chinese medical theory is the Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor – the Nei Ching. This is a collection of texts by unknown authors compiled between 300 and 100 BC. Later writers commented on the Nei Ching to bring out and clarify its ideas and sometimes to add new ones. Without such commentaries the Nei Ching would be almost incomprehensible to modern readers. Modern textbooks are based on works written in the Ching (Manchu) period (1644-1911) and before that on the Han period (202 BC to 220 AD). Much of traditional acupuncture as understood today, therefore, is not of vast antiquity.