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01/01/2007 - The Middle Land by Matthew Bauer.

The name China comes from ‘Chin’ 秦, the name of the state whose Emperor, Qin Shihuang Ying Zheng, first unified after conquering the fighting independent states and bringing an end to the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). Before the term Chin began to be applied to that region and its people, the Chinese referred to their region as the ‘Middle Land’ (Zhong Guo中国) or the ‘Central Territory’. Many historians believe the ancient Chinese called their homeland the Middle Land because they thought China was the centre of the earth. While some Chinese may have thought this way, I feel it more likely this practice had a much deeper meaning.

Early Taoist philosophy is full of references to a mysterious middle ground, a state of being ‘in between’ one reality and another. This concept was known by several different names including ‘divine door’, ‘heavenly gate’, ‘mystical pass’, ‘divine pivot’, etc. When you consider that gates and doors are passageways between one thing and another, it is obvious this concept is not concerned with a physical or geographic ‘middle’ but rather, the potential for transformation. The traditional names of dozens of acupuncture points have terms that reflect this concept such as Life Gate (GV-4), Jade Pivot (CV-21), Stone Pass (KI-18), and the somewhat redundant Pass Gate (ST-22).

Taoist holistic philosophy stresses that all creation is interconnected comprising one great whole. Interestingly, modern science has begun to turn from a mechanistic view of nature toward a holistic view. Western medicines’ mechanical view of nature gained prominence with the theories put forth by such great scientists as Newton and Descartes in the 17th and 18th centuries and have been the dominant view of scientists and the general public ever since. Throughout the later 20th century however, the cutting edge of scientific thought has been quietly developing theories in which all things are seen as interconnected. From the smallest scale of quantum physics to the largest scale of astrophysics, holistic interconnectedness is rapidly gaining ground in nearly every field of science.

If all creation is interconnected, then everything is truly ‘in between’ everything else. All ground is a middle ground and a door or gate connecting it with all else. The early Taoists discovered a most important feature of these interconnecting gates - they are not all equal. Some gates connect things that are very similar to one another so passing through such a gate is hardly noticeable. Other gates connect things that are so different that passing through them is nothing short of a mystical experience.

Modern science has been mystified by some of these gates as well. For example, it is well known that water can be changed from a liquid to a solid (ice) or to a gas (steam) depending on temperature. Lowering or raising the temperature of water molecules throughout 99.99% of the temperature range where water remains a liquid, will change the nature of its’ molecules in predictable ways that are proportional to the temperature change. Yet science has not been able to find any mechanism to explain why lowering or raising the temperature of water molecules past their critical threshold ‘gate’ should cause them to suddenly jump from one form to another. Scientists call these jumps ‘phase transitions’ and they represent just one of several phenomena that are forcing scientists to change their mechanical view of nature.

Another concept of modern science that deals with mysterious gates is known as the ‘Butterfly Effect’. This term was coined in the 1960's within the field of meteorology from the following concept; a butterfly flaps its’ wings in China, causing a chain reaction of meteorological consequences that causes a thunderstorm in Kansas one month later. The Butterfly Effect describes what scientists call ‘systems that are sensitive to initial conditions’. In such systems, a tiny stimulus at just the right ‘pivotal’ point can cause a domino effect leading to dramatic changes that are disproportionate (from a mechanical point of view) to the initial stimulus. The idea that a very small stimulus is capable of causing dramatic changes is now considered a scientific fact.

The concept that everything is a gate connected to everything else and that some gates wield special influence over a whole system is central to the theory of acupuncture. Qi circulates throughout every aspect of the body but has the potential to get stuck at any spot - yet the most common or pivotal ‘stuck spots’ have been singled out and termed ‘acupuncture points’. Hua Ching Ni has stated that the human body has 36,000 acupuncture points yet the Chinese designated only 365 or so as ‘regular’ points - those most pivotal - while recognizing several hundred relatively less pivotal as ‘extra’ or ‘extraordinary’.In treatment, we select a limited number of points to effect healing and will sometimes chose the less common extra points over regular ones. Point selection therefore, is based on the skill of being able to recognize the most pivotal of a group of pivotal points at any given time within a dynamic, fluctuating system.

It can be postulated that human beings are also systems that are sensitive to initial conditions and the best acupuncture points are those that cause a Butterfly Effect stimulating a healing phase transition. Not every butterfly in China will cause a thunderstorm in Kansas and not every change in water temperature will cause a phase transition to ice or steam - you have to know how to pick your points.

It is exciting to see modern science developing a holistic view of nature and coming to grips with the concept of doors or gates, but it remains to been seen if this trend will take modern science to where Taoist science has always been focused; what we in the West would term ‘spirituality’.

The ancient Chinese were convinced that in addition to the physical world there exists a spiritual realm and that the goal of life on earth was to connect with this realm. To do this one must discover and then pass through the most mystical of all doors - those that connect the temporal, physical world with the eternal, spiritual realm (the ultimate phase transition). In order to transform from the physical to the spiritual, the physical, mental and spiritual essences (Qi) must be perfectly balanced. An important component of achieving this is to harmonize ones’ internal environment with ones’ external environment. This is why the Chinese referred to their place of birth as the Middle Land. People are a product of their environment and therefore their environment can serve as a gate leading to the spiritual realm. Taoist folk history told of generations of ancient Masters who spiritualized their beings after harmonizing themselves with the Qi of the high mountains or deep forests in the Chinese heartland.

All the Taoist holistic arts and sciences were designed with such transformation as their ultimate goal. In essence, these practices have a dual role; serving the physical needs while providing those who master these skills with the potential for spiritual breakthroughs. Today the spiritual aspects of acupuncture have not been emphasized in China or in other countries where the potential scientific ‘mechanisms’ of acupuncture are the focus. Acupuncture itself is undergoing a type of phase transition as it rapidly evolves from an ancient regional art into a modern worldwide phenomenon. As acupuncture undergoes this transformation, I hope its spiritual roots will not be forgotten and that acupuncturists will continue to learn that the skills used to find the pivotal doors to healing can also be applied in the search for the Mystical Pass between Heaven and Earth.

■ Matthew Bauer has been practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine since 1987. He lives in La Verne, California and writes a regular column for Acupuncture Today. For more information, visit