I have no business writing about the history of acupuncture in America. I am not a historian. I am definitely not an impartial observer.
I am a licensed acupuncturist who is passionate about the profession and I have an agenda to help new acupuncturists build solid, sustainable practices.
Moreover, I think Miriam Lee is the George Washington of American acupuncture.
Currency should be minted with her face on it.
Streets should be named after her.
There should be a medal of Honor called the "Miriam Lee Award", bestowed upon those who display dedication and excellence in the field of acupuncture. And she should be the first to receive it.
This is hardly the frame of mind of a reporter of historical facts.
But maybe it is time a passionate and biased acupuncturist offered a different version of the history of Acupuncture in America.
Perhaps you have already heard the popular version that acupuncture arrived when Nixon opened up relations with China. There is no doubt that this helped acupuncture to grow, but it does not mark the beginning of acupuncture in the United States.
A true historian would start the "History of Acupuncture in America" by documenting the Chinese doctor who first made acupuncture available. I am not sure that information is even known. (Master's Thesis, anyone?)
One thing we do know is that Chinese medicine arrived in the U.S. through the doctors who immigrated here, some as early as the 1800's. See, China Doctor of John Day (1979) by Jeffrey Barlow and Christine Richardson.
However, for most modern Americans they will "start" the history of acupuncture in 1972 when then President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry A. Kissinger, traveled to China accompanied by a journalist for the New York Times. While in China the journalist, named James Reston, fell ill and ended up in a Chinese hospital requiring an emergency appendectomy. To relieve his pain doctors used acupuncture.
Intrigued and impressed with the effectiveness of his experience with acupuncture, James Reston wrote about his hospitalization and acupuncture treatment in the New York Times, exposing countless Americans for the first time to acupuncture.
What James Reston didn't know is that in 1966 a young Chinese doctor immigrated to the United States and quietly started a revolution that would lead to the legalization of acupuncture in California, and set a precedent for the rest of the United States.
As American acupuncturists, with a relatively short history, it is important to know how acupuncture developed in this country and on whose broad shoulders we stand.
History texts from China tell us that the ancient way of learning Chinese medicine was to apprentice with a Master.
Students spent years learning about the art and application of acupuncture and herbal medicine. But they also learned something else.
They learned the lineage of their medicine. These apprentices learned the names of all the Masters who came before them, all the way back to Qi Boand the Yellow Emperor.
This was not some silly exercise in memorization. It was a respectful study honoring the contributions of thought, theory, practice, technique, and understanding of the doctors who devoted their lives to the art of healing and the science of medicine.
Unlike the apprentices of ancient China I cannot give you an historically accurate list of Acupuncture Masters who took on the daunting task of establishing Chinese medicine in the United States.
So instead I will provide you with The Heroes of American Acupuncture as I see it.
Who's Your Acupuncture Hero??