The History of Chinese Massage

young woman on the therapy massage procedure image by NiDerLander from

Human beings have likely utilised massage since the dawn of time as a means of rubbing away injuries and tired muscles. The earliest written records of this practice emanate from China, with in-depth tutorials shared by ancient Chinese practitioners of massage and traditional medicine.

Those teachings formed the basis for the later development of educated thought on the subject, and the spread of Chinese massage therapy globally.


Massage, a systematic manipulation and rubbing of bodily tissues and muscles to relax and soothe aches, claims a rich tradition in ancient China, with recorded documentation of the practice dating to 3000 B.C. The Chinese focused on a combination of herbs, exercise and massage to treat illness and maintain health. This combination of approaches, called "anmo" was described in an ancient text called "Cong Fau of Tao Tsu." These instructions are the oldest known documents pertaining to massage therapy.

Nei Ching

"The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine," commonly referred to as the Nei Ching, or Neijing, originated sometime soon after the "Cong Fau," possibly around 2500 B.C. The work is attributed to Huang Tiu (The Yellow Emperor) who died in 2598 B.C., yet there has been speculation that the text was written much later, and was falsely attributed to Huang Tiu (following a Chinese tradition of honouring a previous leader by crediting them with a work).


The general practice of Chinese massage grew from a combination of philosophies, including that of traditional Chinese medicine, the practice of martial arts and Buddhists and Taoists, who view touch as a key component of spiritual growth. "Chinese massage methods originated from the principle that diseases and illnesses arise due to a deficiency or imbalance in the energy in specific pathways or meridians that represent physiological systems," according to, a resource website for those interested in careers in the healing arts. The Chinese believed that massage would allow positive energy to better flow through afflicted areas.


The practice of massage therapy in China has experienced general turmoil in the past century. "In 1936, the government announced that "traditional medicine has no scientific foundation and its practice was banned," says Michael Miller in an article for That pronouncement was reversed after the Communist Revolution in 1949, with the new government eager to promote Chinese culture and traditional medicine. The communist regime made every effort to standardise many of the philosophies, techniques and educational approaches of traditional Chinese medicine.

Modern Day

The terms "anmo" and "tui na" are often used interchangeably to describe modern Chinese massage, but there is an important distinction between the two. Anmo is the Chinese medicine practice of utilising massage for relaxation and restoration of vigour, while tui na (translated as "pushing and pulling") is primarily a musculoskeletal technique designed to serve as a physiotherapy and eradicator of diseases, cancers and migraines.