The Introduction of Acupuncture to the West

Acupuncture is practiced widely in China and Asia, and has been for thousands of years, but its arrival and use in the Western world is a fairly recent development. Awareness of the treatment first came about when Jesuit missionaries began their work in the 16th Century throughout Asia, and as the missionaries began returning to France and shared their experiences and the knowledge they had gained from Eastern culture, including acupuncture. The first texts describing the practice of acupuncture (from the Latin acus -needle – and punctura – puncture) appear in the 1670s, most notably from a Father Harvieu, who produced the book Secrets of Chinese Medicine. German doctor, Engelbert Kaempfer, also produced a work on the subject in 1712 after having lived in Japan for a number of years. The first recorded clinical practitioner in the West appears to be a French doctor, Louis-Joseph Berlioz, at the Paris School of Medicine in 1810, when he reported successfully treating a young woman who was suffering from abdominal pains. From this time onwards various journals and texts mention acupuncture, and the opening up of the United States at this time and the immigration of many Japanese and Chinese people to that country, provided the opportunity for the practice to not only arrive, but thrive in the West. A major milestone in the practice took place in 1959 when Denis Lawson-Wood published his Chinese System of Healing: An Introduction to Acupuncture. This appears to be the first text in English to describe acupuncture and the conditions it is used to treat.

Acupuncture first came more openly into public view following a visit by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to China in 1971. During his visit one of the reports accompanying him, James Reston, came down with appendicitis and needed emergency surgery. After the operation he was still in considerable pain and he received acupuncture from a leading Chinese practitioner, which helped considerably. He was so impressed that he wrote about his experience and the subsequent interest and publicity led to a new public awareness of traditional Chinese medicine.

There had been a growing interest in Chinese medicine in the US, but the 1971 article gave the subject such a boost that the National Acupuncture Association (NAA) was started in 1972 to promote the practice and provide training to western doctors. The NAA then helped create the UCLA Acupuncture Pain Clinic in 1972, which became the first western medical facility to use acupuncture as a formal treatment. The first school of acupuncture then opened in New England in the US in 1974.

Since then acupuncture has become an accepted form of complementary medicine throughout the US and Europe. The general interest in Eastern culture that started with the hippy movement of the 1960’s has matured into a clearer appreciation of the history and benefits of eastern medicine, and the way it can effectively complement western medical practices. Now it is possible to find qualified and accredited practitioners throughout the West, from New York to Brighton, and from Sacramento to Sussex.

Jerry works and writes for the Sussex Osteopath and Acupuncture Clinic, based near Brigthon in Sussex. To find out more visit: acupuncture brighton