Foreigners Believe in Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture in the West: In the beginning there was a charlatan

The French George Soulié de Morant is considered the father of western acupuncture. But all the evidence suggests that he never stuck a needle in China, and probably never saw one.

George Soulié de Morant, born in Paris in 1878, died in Paris in 1955. According to his own statements, came to China in 1901 and worked there in the diplomatic service.

As “locus dolendi” sticks, acupuncture was a fashion therapy in Europe around 1820. Then it was forgotten. Modern acupuncture began after 1929 with the writings of George Soulié de Morant (1878–1955) - this time with the aim of conforming to Chinese teachings. When, after 1945, Gerhard Bachmann, Erich Stiefvater and Heribert Schmidt introduced acupuncture in Germany, it was largely based on the teachings of Soulié de Morant. The most important mediator was his student Roger de la Fuye. However, none of the early German acupuncturists knew the Chinese language. Their lack of criticism was all the more astonishing. Like the entire western acupuncture world to this day, they believed Soulié de Morant, who wrote in 1932:

When I arrived in China in 1901, fluently speaking and reading Chinese, the destiny left me in the form of Monsignor Bermyn, the late Bishop of Mongolia, who taught me Mongolian. . ., visit the Missionaries' Hospital, where Chinese doctors treated the unfortunate victims of the terrible cholera epidemic that raged in Beijing at the time. (1)

The destiny let me witness the almost instant healing thanks to the needles. . . Enthusiastic, but suspecting some kind of magic, the acupuncturist lent me a needle and some sick people; after carefully observing the areas to be needled, my patients were healed. (2)

Two years later, as Vice-Consul and Judge at the Shanghai Mixed Court, I met an excellent acupuncturist as the Tribunal's doctor. He was ready to teach me and let me treat patients under his guidance. . . later still, consul in Yunnan-fou. . . a Chinese doctor called me books and gave me advice for the patients in our hospital. (3)

This is how I became an acupuncturist in the eyes of Chinese law. (4)

Amazing - how was the 22-year-old able to speak and read Chinese fluently in 1901 without first having lived with Chinese? Without sound recordings? 3,000 characters, without studying Sinology, without useful textbooks? - Never an explanation.

Or later: Vice Consul and Judge. Really? 24 years old, no studies, no diplomatic school - still as a vice-consul superior to long-serving attachés and embassy councilors? After that even consul in Yunnan-fou (today Kunming)? Hard to believe.

Or the missionaries' hospital. Later it is called “the hospital I visited” (5). In the main work, L’Acuponcture Chinoise, even more spongy: “when visiting the French institutions” (6). But there was no French "Missionaries Hospital" in Beijing, just a St. Vincent Hospital. Was that it? - He never says it.

Or the Chinese doctors. Did they work in secret? Or by order? But why didn't the French doctors know what the Chinese were doing? And how many of them were there? Why did Soulié write about several (des médecins chinois) in April 1932, and later only about one? Strange.

Then the description of cholera. “You eat typhoid, you drink cholera”, was what it used to mean: a cholera epidemic usually requires connected waterways. In dry Beijing, drinking water mostly came from deep wells. How did it come about that cholera raged here?

Now Soulié is allegedly observing the healing of cholera. At that time, conventional medicine was helpless against them. And yet it does not occur to him to inform the French doctors in order to save other patients as well? Strange again. Or the alleged teachers. It is known from China's doctors that they only passed their art on to their sons or experienced students. Should someone just reveal their secrets to a stranger? Especially a foreigner? And then let him treat patients in extreme danger? Hard to believe.

According to Soulié, the needles are available in a wide variety of variants - as an alloy of gold and copper, of silver and tin, as copper needles or sewing needles. Photo: mauritius-images

Or the points. Which ones did the Chinese need? Which soulie? Why, supposedly in the eyes of Chinese law, does he not even name the needled parts of the body as acupuncturist? And in the eyes of what law was he an acupuncturist? Everyone could have noticed: something was wrong here.

In fact, nothing was right. The name itself was an invention. He was born on December 2, 1878 as Georges Soulié. Later he calls himself "George Soulié de Morant" - a noble name. Allegedly to separate himself from brother Maurice - as if Thomas Mann had called himself Tomaso Mann von Hohenstein to differentiate himself from brother Heinrich Tomaso. Apparently Soulié suffered from his low status without a university or well-known school. At least in his name he made himself something higher.

According to his daughter Evelyne (born 1914) in 2007, Soulié de Morant was never consul or vice-consul in China. Only when he left the foreign service did he receive the honorary title. For the first time in 1925 his books (still about China's history and culture, never about medicine) had the note “Consul de France”.

And what about the alleged judicial office? Among the many books that Soulié de Morant wrote, one dealt with “Exterritorialité et Intérèts étrangers en Chine” in 1925. It says who sat on the court for France: “un français,. . . généralement le 1er interprète du consulat ”(7). So that's what he really was: first interpreter.

And was Soulié de Morant “acupuncturist in the eyes of Chinese law?” Certainly not - there was no such law. In 1932 he wrote in the book about Soun Iat-Senn (who was a doctor): "China's laws do not give medical diplomas a monopoly." (8)

Was there really cholera in Beijing in 1901? No. This is shown by the records of the "History of Chinese Medicine" by Wong and Wu: 1901 plague in Hong Kong and Fuzhou and typhus in Jiangxi. But no cholera in Beijing in 1901 (9).

And in Soulié's “Mongolian Grammar” from 1903, one learns: Bishop Bermyn was not even in Beijing in 1901 to negotiate compensation for the boxer devastation (and to teach Soulié Mongolian on the side). But that happened in 1902 (10).

It was all made up. This is shown by the first essay written together with Ferreyrolles. In June 1929 it was “about procedures that one of us has seen use in China” (11) - seen, not practiced! Had that been wrong, Soulié would have had two years to correct it. The next essay did not appear until 1931, again with Ferreyrolles. But again it says: "Still scared, we tried out on Europeans what one of us had seen applied to the Chinese." (12)

Again only “seen”, not “practiced”. Could he have kept this from his friend Ferreyrolles? Hard to believe. But that's not all. In the first two essays, which he wrote alone (April and June 1932), he made another mistake. There he describes the needle (singular!) That supposedly changed his life in April with the words: “The means used were. . . easy. A few stitches 3 or 4 mm deep on the Chinese dots with a fine copper needle. "(13)

Apparently, when he wrote the second essay a little later, he did not have a copy of the first at hand, only the sound in his ear. In the essay, which will appear in June, it says: “A few stitches 3 or 4 mm deep, with a sewing needle.” (14) It sounds similar in French: here “une aiguille de cuivre”, there “une aiguille à coudre ". But can you confuse them, especially in the case of an allegedly life-determining event? And why should the Chinese doctor have lent him a sewing needle?

To cover up this mistake, Soulié claims from now on: “Every [acupuncturist in China] has needles according to his ideas. . . make. . . The tailor's simple sewing needle, fine and alloyed with hard copper, is often used. ”(15) Not at all. In China, too, there were never any sewing needles made of an alloy with copper. And the
“9 needles” have been at the core of acupuncture since the Huangdi Neijing. He also contradicts himself: "After long trials we [that means SdM and the French doctors] have found that the best results are obtained with two different models of needles with the following composition of metals:

For tonification: 60% to 70% pure gold and 40% to 30% red copper.

For dispersion: 66.6% pure silver and 33.4% pure zinc. "(16)

Silver for "sedation", gold for "toning". If he had learned that from his teachers, why does he never let them use different needles the few times he mentions them?

There is not enough space here to prove everything that Soulié did not know, but should have known if he had really learned acupuncture in China. More on this can be found in the explanations that will be posted on the Internet at the same time as this article ( Here are just a few aspects:

  • Soulié returned from China in 1910. By 1932 he published more than 30 books - and none of them even contained the word “acupuncture”.
  • His statement is incomprehensible: "The procedure, which in Chinese is called needles and moxa’, Zhenjiufa, is the most important branch of Chinese medicine. "(17) That is by no means correct, it has always been the doctrine of medicinal products. Acupuncture (banned from the imperial medical academy since 1822) led a shadowy existence. Xu Dachun lamented it as early as 1757 as a "lost tradition" (18).
  • In June 1929 Soulié wrote: “The Chinese. . . were the first homeopaths. ”(19) Also wrong. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) was and is, on the contrary, explicitly allopathic: Deriving fullness, filling up deficiencies, cooling hot things, warming cold things.
  • At no point does Soulié mention anything concrete that he would have learned from his Chinese teachers, let alone differences between them. Never anything about his alleged patients in China either.
  • Soulié only knows the Yin-Yang doctrine superficially, for example wrongly assigning the right to the yang, the left to the yin. He misrepresents the five-phase theory, the disease theory with internal and external causes only in fragments. He knows that the spleen is the central organ of digestion in TCM (and expands it to “spleen-pancreas”), but not that organs such as liver, gall bladder and kidney are also assigned other functions, such as sexuality to the kidney. Because he does not know this, he initially calls the "pericardial vessel" the "circulatory sexuality meridian".
  • An important criterion of Chinese acupuncture is the needle feeling “Deqi” (“To reach the Qi”). And an elementary part of diagnostics is tongue diagnosis. Soulié does not know either - it is unthinkable that none of three Chinese teachers would have pointed them out.

These are all gaps and errors that allow only one explanation: Soulié de Morant's alleged teachers and patients in China did not exist. His acupuncture was a fantasy product based on books he obtained after 1929.

But he got away with it - especially since he found some false but plausible explanatory models. These shape the course content to this day, right up to the "Sample Acupuncture Course Book" of the German Medical Association. "Meridian" made disembodied lines out of the Chinese Jingluo. “Energy” made Qi - which has many meanings in Chinese, but that of a fine substance in medicine - also into something disembodied, comparable to electric current.

But for the Chinese, the Jingluo were "vessels in which blood and Qi flow" - and by no means the same everywhere. Occasionally Soulié quotes this, for example with the lung meridian: “The meridian has much energy and little blood.” (20) Otherwise, he ignores it and only speaks of “management of energy”.

Only in this way could trained doctors swallow constructs such as the “triple meridian cycle”. In the “sample course book” it is called “Leitbahnumlauf”, which is just as absurd. The same is true of the “colon channel”. If you consider that supposedly “blood and something else” is supposed to flow from hand to head, it becomes a superstition: There is no such structure. And if the direction of flow of the pathways really existed - how could one have a filling or “toning” effect on the stomach, for example, by needling Magen36-Zusanli against the direction of the pathway?

Soulié de Morant also overrated the point categories, especially the “toning and sedation points”. But also cardinal, yuan, Luo, alarm, master, cleft or ancient points are for the most part not only clinically insignificant (21), but also poorly justified theoretically. And yet this is what the course participants have to learn for a lot of money.

The “organ clock” also goes back to Soulié. Just ask the chairmen of the major acupuncture societies: Where did Soulié de Morant actually get these “energy maxima and minima” that cannot be found in “Neijing”? We can look forward to the answer.

As with almost all teaching content, the following questions arise: Where does this come from? What is the Chinese wording? What does that mean originally? The acupuncture societies have not done this basic work in almost 60 years of their existence. The fact that they were nevertheless able to establish the “additional designation acupuncture” in 2003 cannot be reconciled with rational medicine.

China's ancient medicine has been a plaything of politics since the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Their resurgence from 1955 onwards was due to political reasons. She called herself “traditional”, but in reality it wasn't: work in hospitals, next door to modern medicine. No emergency treatments. ECG, X-ray, and blood count were also available for TCM patients. The medical records were kept on the basis of medical-scientific terms. During the training at the universities, biology was first taught, then, like a foreign language, the TCM categories were taught.

TCM increasingly lost support among the young Chinese. But then the westerners came. Medicinal herb exports and TCM courses boomed. And the Westerners, thanks to the preparatory work by Soulié de Morant and his students, believed everything. So the voices in China that wanted to reconcile traditional empiricism and modern knowledge fell silent. Instead, obsolete content such as the "Leitbahnendenden" returned to the textbooks.

Today, the self-confidence of TCM in China is based primarily on its reputation in the West. And every criticism, every fundamental discussion - according to the Chinese view - would endanger this reputation. The West is partly to blame for the fact that TCM in China has become more and more reactionary.

This is reflected in a process that has gone almost unnoticed in the West. In January 2006, China's TCM administration applied for TCM to be included in the UNESCO list of "Intangible World Cultural Heritage". If this proposal were successful, it would make real further development almost impossible - as well as eliminating all the obsolete and speculative that haunted TCM teaching content to this day.

The French George Soulié de Morant is considered the father of western acupuncture. He claimed to have learned acupuncture in China. But all the evidence suggests that he never stuck a needle in China, and probably never saw one. His acupuncture was essentially a fantasy product. TCM suffers from the consequences of this fraud to this day. There can still be no question of rational teaching content. The introduction of the "additional designation acupuncture" was premature. It cemented speculative teaching content that is often closer to superstition than to science.

  • How this article is cited:
    Dtsch Arztebl 2010; 107 (30): A 1454-7

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Dr. med. Hanjo Lehmann

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SdM G (April 1932). In: Communications, p. 47
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See Lehmann H / Zhu J: General Statistics d. Acupuncture points. Berlin 1990: Asiartco Verlag