Acupuncture entered the American consciousness in 1972, when a journalist on President Nixon’s trip to China fell ill with appendicitis. Soon after, an account of acupuncture’s relief of his postoperative pain and swelling was in the news.
Early in the 20th century, however, acupuncture was seen, even in China, as a folk remedy. In a talk in March sponsored by Colloquia, Workshops and Lectures in History of Medicine and Science, Bridie J. Andrews, Ph.D., assistant professor of the history of science at Harvard, said it took a young Chinese doctor to make it acceptable. In the 1920s Cheng Dan’an turned to acupuncture to treat his own back injury, for which the Western medicine he admired could only prescribe opiates. Intrigued by the success of the treatment, he applied his knowledge of anatomy to acupuncture and in 1932 published a book showing new acupuncture points. In 1993 magnetic resonance imaging suggested that certain biochemical pathways are affected by acupuncture. “Biomedical research into acupuncture,” Andrews said, “is producing a much more integrated view of body function, which is something that biomedicine has been striving for for some time.”