Dr.Yao Wu Lee established the first acupuncture center in United States in 1972, with Dr.Arnold Benson, Mr.Charles Newmark

by Arthur Yin Fan
(Vienna, Virginia, USA)

The first acupuncture center in the United States: an interview with Dr. Yao Wu Lee, Washington Acupuncture Center

Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine: Volume 10 May, 2012 Number 5
Arthur Yin Fan (McLean Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, PLC. Vienna, VA 22182, USA )

Correspondence: Arthur Yin Fan, PhD, MD, LAc; Tel: +1-703-499-4428; Fax: +1-703-547-8197; E-mail: ArthurFan@ChineseMedicineDoctor.US

Forty years ago, President Nixon’s visit to China was a sign of the start of the normalization of Sino-American relations. Before and after President Nixon’s journey, the Chinese government’s “acupuncture diplomacy” was very effective.

American reporters, politicians and well-known medical doctors or scholars visited many Chinese hospitals and witnessed numerous and various operations performed on patients under acupuncture anesthesia. When they returned, they reported these miraculous stories occurring in China and expressed their impressions. They were also interviewed on television shows. These reports activated American’s curiosity about China and the magic of acupuncture.

One story especially, “Now, Let Me Tell You About My Appendectomy in Peking” written by James Reston, the vice-president and the most famous columnist of The New York Times, about his own experience in Beijing, directly triggered American’s interest in acupuncture. What’s interesting is that Reston’s story appeared on the front page of The New York Times along with the Apollo 15 liftoff, on July 26, 1971, which seems to hint that acupuncture would land in the United States of America like Apollo landed on the moon. We consider Reston’s acupuncture article as the most effective “ignition” of the long lasting fire of American’s acupuncture fever.

The first real big wave of “acupuncture fever” was actually started by the Washington Acupuncture Center, also known as the Acupuncture Center of Washington, which was established by Dr. Yao Wu Lee (Sam, 李耀武), Dr. Arnold Benson and Mr. Charles Newmark.

It is the first widely reported acupuncture center in modern history of the United States and was influential in furthering the development of acupuncture fever. The center was established in May, 1972, and initially named as Acupuncture Center of New York. It opened to patients on July 12, 1972, but closed shortly after due to the order of the New York Board of Medicine. Then it got approval to operate and moved to Washington, D.C. and re-opened on December 28, 1972.

There were several firsts achieved by this center.

(1) There were more than 280 domestic and international newspapers that reported the opening of the center.

(2) During its “golden time”, there were about approximately one thousand patients treated per day.

(3) At the federal level, as per this center’s request, in the category of professions, the United States Citizenship and the Immigration Services created a totally new profession — acupuncturist, and defined acupuncture as a medical practice. Since 1973, there were opportunities for acupuncturists to immigrate to the United States.

(4) In 1973, the Internal Revenue Service of the United States announced that patients could claim their acupuncture spending as medical expense in their tax returns.

(5) Due to a win of a lawsuit in the Federal Court in 1974, a patient’s right to choose acupuncture treatment by his own judgment and an acupuncturist’s right to practice acupuncture were protected.

At the federal level, acupuncture started to become an independent profession in the United States and started to diversify control held by the Western medicine-trained physicians. It also laid a basis for acupuncture or oriental medicine legislation in each state. We should remember that Washington, D.C. was the first local authority to approve non-physician (acupuncturists) to practice acupuncture in the history of the United States.

Washington Acupuncture Center is the first acupuncture center, with the longest history in the United States.

To record the history of acupuncture, in December of 2011, the author, Dr. Arthur Fan interviewed Dr. Yao Wu Lee, one of founders of this center, who is 80 years old and still in practice.

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Interesting History of Acupuncture in the U.S. - Dr. Yao Wu Lee
by: Lisa Hanfileti, LAc

Thank you for adding this insightful article and sharing information about Dr. Yao Wu Lee. We have many heroes to thank for being brave pioneers and bringing acupuncture to this country! I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and contact info so we can continue to build a list of Acupuncture Heroes!

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