Dr. Wu: A beautiful, moving and meditative song — In memory of Dr. Jing Nuan Wu, a pioneer of acupuncture and a Chinese medicine doctor in the United States. Part 1
by Arthur Yin Fan
Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine: 2012; 10(8): 837-840.
Correspondence: Arthur Yin Fan, PhD, MD, LAc. Tel: +1-703-499-4428; Fax: +1-703-547-8197; E-mail: ArthurFan@ChineseMedicineDoctor.US
Authors: Arthur Yin Fan,Ziyi Fan (McLeanCenter for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, PLC. Vienna, VA22182, USA )
Few popular songs are titled a doctor’s name and even fewer are sung directly by the doctor’s patients. However, the song Dr. Wu might be the exception. After sung by Steely Dan1, a well-known American jazz-rock band, Dr. Wu has been loved by many Americans for over 35 years. The beautiful, moving, and meditative song was written in 1975 after Steely Dan had abandoned touring and reconvened in Los Angles, the UnitedState2. As one of the best Steely Dan songs, Dr. Wu literally describes the love between Katy and a young Cuban man, and because of Dr. Wu, the girl leaves the young man. Actually, the song writer and singer Donald Fagen, wrote the song as a metaphor commemorating one of the band members’ recovery (probably himself) from drugs with the help of Dr. Wu3. Hence, the song is a cryptic lyrical tribute.
1 Who is Dr. Wu?
In the Steely Dan Dictionary4, the titular doctor is identified as: “Doctor Jing Nuan Wu (1933-2002), an acupuncturist and artist based in Washington, D.C., emigrated from China to the UnitedState at a young age and graduated from Harvard to become a Wall Street venture capitalist, finally setting up a Taoist clinic in Washington, D.C. in 1973.”
I met Dr. Jing Nuan Wu (胡振南) in 2002, just one month before his death. At the time, I had only lived in the UnitedState for one year. I had just received my acupuncture license and planned to practice Chinese medicine in Washington, D.C., so I called Dr. Wu’s office to ask for some advice from him, and he agreed to see me. I did not know he was very ill. We met in one of his offices in Georgetown, located on the beautiful north bank of the Potomac River. He was very thin and wore a black traditional Chinese silk shirt. Because he could not speak Mandarin and I could not speak Cantonese, we used English to communicate. His voice was very soft due to his illness. Dr. Wu described the history of Chinese medicine in Washington, D.C. and he hoped that Chinese medicine could prosper from generation to generation. He said that he was aware that I was a young Chinese medicine doctor with several achievements and expressed that I could work with him should he recover from kidney cancer. It was a pity that the arrangement was never fulfilled. Dr. Wu passed away on December 3, 2002.
Dr. Wu was a legendary person. He was born in Guangdong, China, a province near Hong Kong, but was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, in the United States. According to the recall of a friend of his5, Dr. Wu came to the United States with his parents when he was five years old. His parents were laundry workers and worked hard to raise him. Their work paid off as he later graduated from HarvardUniversity with a degree in language and history. He moved to Middleburg, Virginia in the 1960s and caused a stir in Virginia hunt country when he bought the Rattlesnake Ridge retreat from Jacqueline Kennedy6. He had an “extreme crisis” in early 1970s before becoming a Chinese medicine doctor5-7.
Dr. Wu was a venture capitalist in the 1960s and had interest in a firm that was developing Apollo space capsules. He had trouble with the authorities in that period; the immigration officials accused him for faking papers and the Securities and Exchange Commission suspected him of investment improprieties (he denied both wrongdoings). He was involved in a series of tiring law suits and became bankrupt. His United States citizenship was maintained, but he could no longer be a venture capitalist. During this crisis period, he visited his family in Hong Kong. During this visit, an elder relative gave him some life-changing advice — “It’s time for you to do service.” he said. It was then that Dr. Wu learned Chinese medicine from his uncle and was commissioned to write a book on Chinese medicine in English. When he realized that Chinese medicine was effective, he made a decision — instead of writing about Chinese medicine, he began to practice it.
He returned to the Washington D. C. to establish the Taoist Health Institute in 1973, and developed a stable stream of high-profile clients. Under the supervision of a medical doctor, he became one of the earliest acupuncturists/Chinese medicine doctors in the United States. At that time, Washington, D.C. was the first local authority that allowed acupuncturists to legally practice. Dr. Wu was most successful during the late 1970s to early 2000s5-7. At the time, when people in Washington, D.C. thought of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the first name that came to mind was Dr. Jing Nuan Wu7. As his friend wrote in a book, “a Chinese idiom says, ‘death is not terrible; two decades later, he will become a hero again.’ Dr. Wu actually became a hero in Chinese medicine only several years after his ‘death in Wall Street’”5.
continued in next, part 2