How Henry Kissinger Helped Start Acupuncture in the U.S. (1970s)
by Ron Kurtus (revised 20 April 2005)
The popularity of acupuncture in the United States mainly came as a result of a trip to China in 1971 by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, where an accompanying journalist, James Reston had an emergency operation. Reston was administered acupuncture to relieve pain after the operation. Announcements in the news caught the public's imagination.
Questions you may have about this are:
- What happened with the operation?
- Who was the journalist?
- How did the public get interested?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Kissinger on trip to China
In July 1971, Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State in President Richard M. Nixon's administration, went to Communist China in to prepare for a trip the following year as part of the efforts to re-establish relationships with that country.
While in China, one of the accompanying journalists—James Reston of the N.Y. Times—had an acute appendicitis attack. Chinese physicians performed an emergency operation on Reston to remove his appendix.
Doctors used acupuncture
After the emergency operation was completed, Reston was in extreme discomfort and pain. To give him relief, the Chinese doctors performed an ancient practice of inserting needles into special areas of the skin to safely deaden the pain. This is called acupuncture.
Although Kissinger was naturally concerned about Reston, he was also fascinated with this method of relieving pain by the use of inserting needles in a person.
When he returned home, Reston wrote an article about his experience in the N.Y. Times. But it was the fact that Kissinger mentioned the occurrence in a press briefing after the trip, as well as the interest he and President Nixon had about acupuncture, that helped inspire the public's curiosity concerning the technique.
In fact, many people thought it was Kissinger who had been operated on and not the journalist.
Newspaper and magazine articles followed, and acupuncture practitioners came out of the woodwork to let people try the technique for relieving pain and many other maladies.
The emergency operation of journalist James Reston in China introduced the American public to acupuncture though Reston' s article and press briefings by Henry Kissinger. Lessons that can be learned from this bit of history are that:
- Some ancient practices can be useful today
- Public officials and celebrities can help promote new ideas
- Chance occurrences can result in progress
Learn from the past events
Resources and references
"Now, Let Me Tell You About My Appendectomy in Peking..." New York Times, Monday July 26, 1971 by James Reston
James Reston - Wikipedia (mentions appendectomy in China)
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