Introduction of Acupuncture to America
                                                                         by Kelly Ann Ilseman

Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice that originated in China. Acupuncture came to America for the first time during the 1800’s, brought from China via European missionaries, doctors, traders, and explorers.(1-5) Concerned with unification and presentation of China to the rest of the world, the Chinese government created “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM) during the 1950’s,(4) a synthesis (and abandonment)(6) of ancient practices.  In 1968, Dr Ju Gim Shek, an acupuncturist in Los Angeles, introduced tai chi and acupuncture to a group of eager Psychology doctoral students (Rosenblatt, Prensky, Prince, and Ferrick), who were studying brain chemistry and pain mechanisms at UCLA.(7) Coupled with the introduction of acupuncture to psychologists interested and open to experimentation and to new perspectives at UCLA, it was Nixon’s visit to China that facilitated Chinese medicine to gain widespread attention in the United States on an even larger cultural sphere.(6) Nixon visited China in February of 1972(8) to meet with Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai in what has been called “the week that changed the world”8 and it truly did open doors in the U.S. for the medicine of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Additionally, James Reston, a journalist for The New York Times for almost 60 years, was on assignment in Peking prior to Nixon’s famous visit to China.(9) While there he became ill with appendicitis and required immediate hospitalization for removal of his appendix.(9) A Chinese doctor offered him post-surgery acupuncture and moxa for pain relief related to stomach distention.(9) Reston found the treatment to be incredibly effective, and wrote a Special Article to The New York Times about his experience there,(9) bringing huge attention to the ancient practice of acupuncture into the conversations of everyday American households. The article was published on July 26, 1971, on the front page of The New York Times, right beside a story about the Apollo 15 lift off, (10) which “seem[ed] to hint that acupuncture would land in the United States of America like Apollo landed on the moon.”(10) The influence of politicians, writers, and the media had a tremendous impact on acupuncture’s growth in U.S. consciousness, as did the cultural zeitgeist of the times being open and ready for these ideas. Acupuncture is now used in many countries of the world, and requires graduate-level (Master’s or Doctorate) level education at accredited institutions in order to practice.

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Retrieved on October 7, 2017.

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  1. Rosenblatt S. and Kirts K. The Birth of Acupuncture in America – The White Crane’s Gift. Bloomington, Indiana: Balboa Press; 2016.

  1. N.A. The Opening of China. The Nixon Foundation. January 18, 2017. Available at: Retrieved on November 4, 2017.

  1.  Reston J. Now, About My Operation in Peking. New York Times, Jul 26, 1971; Special to the New York Times: pages 1, 6. Available at: and Retrieved on October 10, 2017.

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