The history of Chinese cupping dates back from the year 281 AD. It was an ancient Taoist medical practice and was widely used in the courts of Imperial China during those times. Its administration was first recorded by Ge Hong, in an ancient tract called Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies.
Ge Hong was a practicing Taoist, an alchemist, and a medicinal herbalist. He was famous during his time as an accomplished healer and a trusted confidante of many high officials in ancient China.
During those times, Ge Hong and other medicine men used animal horns for cupping. That is why in some medical tracts of the empire, cupping was referred to as the horn technique of healing.
Other ancient medicine men in the Arabian Desert and the Indian sub-continent also used cupping technique as one of their healing methods. However, their practices in these areas were recorded at a much later time.
This led researchers to believe that cupping was indeed a Chinese invention and its practice was older than stated in recorded history. There were horn implements that were discovered in the deep East Asian regions, especially in Northern China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula.
During the Tang Dynasty, cupping was the principal treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis. It was also used in conjunction with acupuncture and moxibustion. In fact, the three ancient medical practices became the standard treatment for chronic pulmonary diseases during the reign of the Tang Dynasty.
The ascension of the Qing Dynasty to the Imperial throne of China also saw the emergence of other tools used for cupping. Qing doctors experimented with bamboo cups and ceramic pottery. The practice came to be known as the fire jar qi. It started the introduction of the wet method of cupping.
The bamboo cups were usually boiled and these were placed on affected areas. These practices have been enshrined in the definitive medical tract called Supplement to Outline of Materia Medica by the famous physician Zhao Xuemin.
During the time of the Qing Dynasty, cupping technique and acupuncture were integrated into a single session therapy. Heated cups were normally placed over embedded acupuncture needles. It was also during these times that cupping was indicated for the treatment of common colds, back pains, knotted nerves and muscles, and arthralgia.
A variation of this technique was recorded in the Arabian Desert. Medicine men in those areas made small incisions on the areas to be cupped. It thus sucked bad blood from the body and helped cleanse the system of the patient. It probably draws inspiration from the Chinese cupping methodologies of the Qing Dynasty period.
The modern technique of Chinese cupping used glass and fine plastic cups. In the early 20th century, even common glass cups were used as vehicle for cupping therapies. The basic principles and indications of cupping remain the same as was originally practiced in ancient China.
Today, advanced implements are being used to administer cupping. Plastic cups with suction tubes are the commonly used implements. Air was pumped out from the cups using the suction tubes thus providing modern practitioners more convenience.
The history of Chinese cupping is a long history of healing and innovation. This ancient method has been proven effective against common disorders associated with the pulmonary system.
By Ivy Ling
Lara Aitken, Holistic Doctor, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture Physician, Reiki Practitioner, Hypno-therapist.