An extremely rare survival: an uncommonly tall and large wooden training mannequin, called in Japan do-ningyo (“copper doll,” even those no longer made of bronze), in very good condition. It is most unusual to have such a mannequin of a female; the male figure is usually presented. Certain motifs of the model suggest it was carved in the Chinese or Indian style.
The first examples of similar models originated in 11th-century China, where 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, which were usually marked.
In the 17th century, Japanese physicians replicated these figurines, making them from materials that were easier to model, such as wood, sometimes covered with papier-mâché. They depicted the loci appropriate for acupuncture.
Our model is covered with more than 100 small holes, representing pressure points, along with their names. The eyes have been painted white (now partially flaked).
Models like this were created for medical students to study and for doctors, who would refer to them and prescribe treatments.
Our model is able to stand on its own. Some wear and flaking of the wood but not affecting the handwritten labels of each acupuncture point. Preserved in a very fine new wooden box.
❧ See Huang Longziang, “Reading Visual Imagery and Written Sources on Acupuncture and Moxibustion” in Lo & Barrett, eds., Imagining Chinese Medicine (2018), pp. 161-66.
Item ID: 6790