How Richard Nixon Brought Acupuncture to America in 1971

By Dustin Siena

Richard Milhous Nixon, our thirty-seventh President of the United States, and the only president to ever resign the office. Watergate echoes such words as scandal, corruption, deceit, and conspiracy.

The thirteen and a half years that Nixon spent as either Commander in Chief or Vice-President makes him the longest-serving person to have filled our great nationç—´ two highest positions of office. A true legacy of which no individual has surpassed as of yet.

However, in addition to his legacy, there is one little, and unknown fact about Nixon, which may be his greatest legacy of all. Richard Nixon may have been the catalyst, that brought Acupuncture to America– directly from mainland China.

The many thousands of patients who have been healed from all that ail them—all from a seemingly harmless needle being stuck into various anatomical locations on their bodies may owe their thanks to New York Times journalist, James Reston.

James Reston’s “Now, About My Operation in Peking”, New York Times, July 26, 1971, maybe the seminal piece of American journalism, which introduced us Americans to the wonders of fine needlework, and I am not talking about the type of needle-point your Aunt Tilly does. I am talking about Acupuncture.

The catalyst that brought Acupuncture into the mainstream in America, all from a little visit Nixon made to China in 1971.

At the time, New York Times Journalist James Reston was accompanying President Nixon on his trip to China. While in Beijing, Reston developed a case of appendicitis and had to undergo an emergency appendectomy.

After his appendix was removed through conventional surgery at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Beijing, his post-operative pain was treated by Li Chang-Yuan with acupuncture. (Source: Reston, James, “Now, About My Operation in Peking”, New York Times, July 26, 1971)

Reston has so amazed with the post-operative pain relief that Acupuncture gave him, that he decided to write about his experience upon his return to the states in The New York Times.

The article he wrote for the New York Times described his experience and probably was the first exposure many Americans had to Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

The article ignited sparks throughout the United States. And it was at that moment that Acupuncture entered our vocabulary.