In 1971, a man by the name of James Reston was visiting China and became sick. He was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with appendicitis. Shortly after, Reston underwent surgery and his appendix was removed, setting off a chain of events that is responsible for the mushrooming interest and acceptance of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in the United States.
Certainly, Chinese medicine wasn’t new to the United States in 1971. With the influx of Chinese immigrants who helped build our railroads and worked in the gold fields, Chinese medicine followed. However, it was delegated to the back rooms of China towns in cities across the nation and thought of as something akin to voodoo—that is until James Reston’s appendix heated up.
James Reston was a reporter for the New York Times in 1971. He was in China in advance of Dr. Henry Kissinger’s famous trip, which would occur a few weeks later. When Reston got sick, he received typical Western-style care in the form of immediate surgery to remove his appendix. However, what happened after surgery are the events that sealed the fate of Chinese medicine in the West. During his recuperation, Reston experienced a great deal of post-operative pain. Rather than immediately giving him standard pain killers, the Chinese doctors performed acupuncture to relieve his pain. To Reston’s astonishment, the acupuncture worked!
Reston came home and wrote an article about his experience with acupuncture in the New York Times. Reston who was also an acquaintance of Dr. Kissinger, told Kissinger about his encounter with acupuncture, and Kissinger passed the story on to President Nixon. The President was so impressed with the story that he instituted a program in which traditional Chinese doctors came to the United States to share their medicine, and American doctors were sent to China for the same purpose. In the years following, Chinese medicine in the United States began to take off.
When people say that President Nixon is responsible for the acceptance of Chinese medicine in the United States, it’s true. However, the source of the story begins with an inflamed appendix.