Mapping the Meridians

Two “annotated” acupuncture models, each with characters written in black and meridians in various colors on the flesh-colored surfaces, the taller 660 x 220 mm., the smaller 475 x 165 mm., each made of a wooden core & covered in papier-mâché (gesso).

Mid-Edo period.

Extremely rare survivals: two training mannequins, called in Japan do-ningyo (“copper dolls,” even if they were no longer made of bronze), in excellent condition. The first examples of similar models originated in 11th-century China when life-size human acupuncture figures were cast from bronze. “The metal walls of the figures were pierced with small holes corresponding to the principal loci for acupuncture and moxibustion, then covered with wax, filled with water, and used for the examination of medical candidates from the central and provincial colleges. If they located correctly the acu-points which they suggested needling (as the result of their diagnoses), drops of water would appear, otherwise they would fail their test.”–Lu & Needham, Celestial Lancets. A History and Rationale of Acupuncture and Moxa, p. 131.

Models produced in 13th-century China, also made of fine bronze, had the names of the acu-points marked in characters of gold. Smaller models were also created. Later, they gradually began to be made of paper or wood, which emphasized the ribs and projection of the bones for locating meridians and acu-points and were usually marked with these meridians and acu-points.

In the 17th century, Japanese physicians imitated these figurines and made them from materials that were easier to model, wooden skeletons covered with papier-mâché. They depicted the acu-tracts and the loci appropriate for acupuncture and for moxa cautery.

Our larger model is covered with more than 100 painted dots, representing pressure points, along with their names. There are also long lines, which represent acu-tracts, in black, yellow, red, green, blue, and cream. Each disc of the spine is numbered, up to 21, with the names of the pressure points. There are references next to many of the characters to the essential organs of the body, including the spleen, kidneys, lungs, heart, liver, small and large intestines, bladder, etc. Even the soles of the feet have painted acu-points. On the left foot, “Yamamoto” is written. The figure has detailed teeth and eyebrows, and open nostrils. Even the fingers are labelled.

The smaller of the two models is quite different. It is much more concerned with the anatomy of the body, which would enable the acupuncturist to measure distances for correct placement of the needles. The surface is accompanied by black explanatory text with measurements of body sections.

The models were created for medical students to study and for doctors, who would refer to them and prescribe treatments.

Both models are able to stand on their own. A few small and inoffensive chips but not affecting the information. The surfaces have become rather spotted over time.

❧ See Huang Longziang, “Reading Visual Imagery and Written Sources on Acupuncture and Moxibustion” in Lo & Barrett, eds., Imagining Chinese Medicine (2018), pp. 161-66.

Price: $25,000.00

Item ID: 6475