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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 241-244

An important acupuncture demonstration in the history of legalization of acupuncture in the United States

1 American Association of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture; Board Directors of Research Institute of Chinese Medicine, San Francisco, USA
2 American Association of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture; Board Directors of Research Institute of Chinese Medicine, San Francisco; Myway Health LLC, Hu Jun Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture Clinic, Sacramento, USA

Date of Submission30-Sep-2020
Date of Decision16-Oct-2020
Date of Acceptance02-Nov-2020
Date of Web Publication28-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jun Hu
American Association of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, San Francisco, CA 94108; Research Institute of Chinese Medicine, San Francisco, CA 94108; Myway Health LLC, Sacramento, CA 95180
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_38_20

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This article details a public acupuncture demonstration that took place on May 9, 1972, in San Francisco, California. It was conducted by two traditional Chinese medicine doctors Pien Bae Chi (卞伯岐) and Leung Kok Yuen (梁觉玄), and was observed by 500 American medical doctors. This was an important public acupuncture demonstration in the early history of acupunccture in the United States (US). It directly promoted the passage of the first acupuncture bill by California government and had a significant impact on the legalization of acupuncture in California.

Keywords: Acupuncture, Leung Kok Yuen (梁觉玄), legalization, history of Chinese medicine, James Reston, Pien Bae Chi (卞伯岐)

How to cite this article:
Huang SX, Hu J. An important acupuncture demonstration in the history of legalization of acupuncture in the United States. Chin Med Cult 2020;3:241-4

How to cite this URL:
Huang SX, Hu J. An important acupuncture demonstration in the history of legalization of acupuncture in the United States. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 15];3:241-4. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2020/3/4/241/305179

  Introduction Top

As of 2015, there had been about 35,000 licensed acupuncturists in the US, the country with the most acupuncture doctors outside of China. California had nearly 12,000 licensed acupuncturists, about one-third of the country's total.[1] California is, and has been, an important state for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture, with the legalization of acupuncture there over 40 years ago. However, the road to this legalization had been a bumpy one.

  Forerunners to the Acupuncture Demonstration in San Francisco Top

The history of TCM in the US can be traced back to the 1850s when early Chinese immigrants began arriving, primarily through the port of San Francisco. Because of the native American Indians' traditions and customs of using herbal medicine to treat diseases, the use of TCM herbal medicine to treat diseases could be carried out openly without a license.[2] Due to its needling penetrating the skin, acupuncture was considered a medical practice and needed to apply for a medical license; otherwise, it was illegal. Therefore, those early Chinese acupuncturists could only practice acupuncture underground, making it impossible to have public acupuncture demonstrations.

On July 26, 1971, James Reston, an influential journalist and the Vice President of The New York Times, published an article detailing his personal acupuncture experience in Beijing.[3],[4] This article sparked a great interest in acupuncture. In fact, before and after Reston's visit, groups of American scientists and medical experts visited China and watched acupuncture anesthesia. From May 10 to 24, 1971, Arthur Galston, a botanist at Yale University, and Ethan Signer, a biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were the first group who visited China. The second group visited China in September 1971, including Paul Dudley White, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School; Grey Diamond, Dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of Missouri; Victor Sidel, an epidemiology and population health professor at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine; and Samuel Rosen, a professor of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. These scientists and medical experts, as well as other visitors, recounted, through pictures and articles to the American medical community and the general public, what they saw and heard about acupuncture anesthesia in China.[5],[6] The astounding picture of acupuncture anesthesia surprised and shocked the American public. All of these communications contributed to creating a “acupuncture heat” in the country and the ensuing “China Heat” triggered by President Nixon's visit to China in February 1972.

At that time, although there was some awareness of educational and experimental acupuncture in the US, most medical doctors had almost no knowledge of acupuncture and had never seen it in practice. There was both doubt and mystery about acupuncture, though it boasted a history of over 5000 years. The medical community wanted to observe acupuncture therapy with their own eyes. The American Medical Association was planning to hold its annual conference at the Stanford University, near San Francisco, in June 1972. Acupuncture was anticipated to be a hot topic at the conference. Many California physicians were planning to attend and they hoped to acquire a preliminary understanding of acupuncture.[7]

San Francisco, the largest Chinese settlement and commercial center in North America, with the world's largest Chinatown, had abundant TCM and acupuncture resources. Thus, its geographic and human advantages made it an opportune place to have an acupuncture demonstration by TCM doctors.

  The Acupuncture Demonstration Top

In the early 1972, Chinese medical doctor Jane Lee, introduced by a friend, met Dr. Pien Bae Chi [Figure 1], a well-known TCM doctor in San Francisco, and invited him to demonstrate acupuncture for the California Medical Association (CMA).
Figure 1: Pien Bae Chi (卞伯岐)

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According to Dr. Pien's memoir,[8] he hesitated to give this acupuncture demonstration. On the one hand, he feared that the demonstrator would be accused of practicing medicine illegally. On the other hand, he worried that Dr. Lee had once been commissioned by the CMA to show through a public demonstration that acupuncture was not effective in treating illnesses, thereby denigrating TCM and acupuncture. After repeated persuasions, he finally agreed, on the condition that his former colleague in Hong Kong, an acupuncture expert, Dr. Leung Kok Yuen [Figure 2] must also be invited. Dr. Leung was then living in Vancouver, Canada.
Figure 2: Leung Kok Yuen (梁觉玄)

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The acupuncture demonstration, jointly organized by the San Francisco Medical Society and the San Francisco Medical School, was held in San Francisco on May 9, 1972, as a medical education experiment. The event received major media coverage in San Francisco and in Sacramento, California's state capital.[9],[10],[11],[12] About 500 medical doctors, including surgeons and anesthesiologists, attended the demonstration. CMA President Dr. Thomas Elmendorf started the meeting and introduced Dr. Pien and Dr. Leung. An interpreter briefly introduced TCM and acupuncture to everyone. Next, three individuals received treatment; none of them had ever had acupuncture.

The first was Dr. Elmendorf. The 52-year-old doctor had suffered from severe arthritis in his hip for more than 4 years. He had pain in his buttocks and legs, accompanied by limping. Dr. Elmendorf laid himself onto the treatment table. Dr. Leung first applied moxibustion to the area where the needles were to be applied, and then pushed 2” needles into Dr. Elmendorf's legs and lower back. Four needles were used in total. Dr. Leung and Dr. Pien also applied short-term manipulations. Minutes later, Dr. Elmendorf arose from the table and said to the 500 colleague observers: “There's no question. There is considerable relief in my hip; I still have a little pain in my right leg. The relief feels good.”

The second was Arlene Wong, a middle-aged, registered nurse. She had been injured in a car accident 7 years ago and suffered from lower back pain. She carried an electronic device called a dorsal stimulator which wires were attached to her back. When pressing a button, an electrical current would transmit through the wires to give her a temporary pain relief. Dr. Pien and Dr. Leung used acupuncture on her back, buttock, calf and ankle. In less than 10 min, Ms. Wong stated, “I don't feel the pain I had …. This is beautiful.”

The third was George Noe, a 19-year-old student from the University of California. He hoped to use acupuncture anesthesia for his tooth extraction. Dr. Leung and Dr. Pien did acupuncture points on Mr. Noe's hands and feet, and withdrew the needles after 30 min. The student felt partial numbness in his arms but no numbness near his mouth. Dr. Leung explained that because of the large venue and too many people that day the noise had affected the effect. He also said that acupuncture anesthesia does have a clinical failure rate and was not always successful.[9]

This public acupuncture demonstration allowed hundreds of American medical doctors to witness the immediate effects of acupuncture in the treatment of pain.

  Factors in the Success of the Acupuncture Demonstration Top

The success of the acupuncture demonstration was primarily due to the fact that the two TCM doctors had a very solid theoretical foundation as well as rich clinical experiences in TCM and acupuncture. They had both been taught by famous doctors and were reputed and outstanding, TCM doctors.

Dr. Pien Bae Chi was born in 1910 in Changwu, Jiangsu Province. He studied under Wang Daopin (王道平), a successor of the Menghe School (孟和学派); also Dr. Pien was specializing in laryngology and acupuncture. Dr. Pien practiced in Changwu and Changzhou and served as the President of the Changwu TCM Association. In 1949, he moved to Hong Kong and founded the “Daoshengtang” TCM store while also practicing TCM. His medical reputation spread throughout Hong Kong in the 1950s. The Hong Kong newspaper “Sing Tao Daily” opened a column for Dr. Pien called “Inquiry on Diseases and Treatments”. It was later compiled and published as the book “Inquiry on Diseases and Treatments,” and the book title was written by Zhang Daqian (张大千). Dr. Pien moved from Hong Kong to San Francisco in 1967 and continued to practice TCM in San Francisco's Chinatown.[13]

Dr. Leung Kok Yuen was born 1922 in Shunde, a city in the Guangdong province, China. His father was former Director of the Guangdong Provincial Department of Political Affairs. After his resignation, he worked as a TCM doctor for more than 40 years. Dr. Leung Kok Yuen followed in his father's footsteps to study and to practice TCM. He studied TCM and acupuncture under Dr. Deng Kunming (邓昆明), a disciple from the Chengjiang School (澄江学派). Dr. Leung began independent practice in 1941. In 1951, he was invited to teach acupuncture at the Hong Kong Modern College of TCM. He later served as a professor and the Dean of the Chinese Academy of Acupuncture. He also served as the Chairman of the Hong Kong Acupuncture Society, among other prestigious positions. He moved to Vancouver, Canada in 1969.[14]

During the acupuncture demonstration, Dr. Pien and Dr. Leung, two senior TCM doctors, faced hundreds of American medical doctors and three unknown patients. Under those conditions, it was undoubtedly a huge challenge to show the effects of acupuncture therapy. Had the demonstration failed, it would have caused not only great damage to their personal reputations but also an extremely negative impact on the entire TCM and acupuncture industry. They bravely accepted this challenge. This requires great confidence in their own medical skills.

Another factor in the success of the demonstration was that two of the demonstration cases were conditions for which acupuncture could produce immediate effects.

  Post Acupuncture Demonstration Effects Top

One month later, on June 29, 1972, Dr. Pien and Dr. Leung were invited by CMA President Dr. Elmendorf to attend a press conference at the California State Capitol to promote the AB1500 bill and to give an acupuncture demonstration. Some government officials attended the press conference and watched the acupuncture demonstration[15] [Figure 3] and [Figure 4].
Figure 3: Pian-Leung, 1972

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Figure 4: Kok Leung, 1972

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The AB1500 bill was proposed by a California Assembly member Gordon Duffy, and supported by the CMA. The bill mainly stipulated that acupuncturists could act as physicians' assistants to perform acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture treatment should be carried out as a clinical experiment in California medical schools. The AB1500 bill was passed in California in 1972. It was the first bill in the US that was related to acupuncture.[16] However, it was flawed. According to AB1500 Bill, acupuncturists could not perform acupuncture independently. Therefore, it did not solve the legal practice issue of practicing acupuncture. For this reason, the bill was criticized by acupuncturists and by some in the public community.

In Nevada, from March 19 to April 6, 1974, Dr. Lok Yee Kun (陆易公) from Hong Kong conducted acupuncture demonstrations for state legislators and the public.[17] These demonstrations successfully promoted and contributed to the passage of the nation's first legalization of acupuncture in Nevada. The bill recognized TCM as a learned profession and was an important turning point in the history of TCM and acupuncture in the US.

In July 1975, the Governor of California Jerry Brown signed the SB86 Bill,[18] making California the eighth state in the US to legislate acupuncture.

Dr. Pien participated in the establishment of the California TCM and Acupuncture Research Association in San Francisco, the first professional organization of TCM and acupuncture in the US. He also served as the second term President of the Association. In 1998, Dr. Pien passed away in his hometown, Changwu, at the age of 88.

Dr. Leung was in the first batch of registered acupuncturists in Washington State in 1973 and became a registered acupuncture teacher at the Oregon Department of Education in 1986. He has trained a large number of overseas acupuncturists. He practiced TCM and acupuncture in Seattle until his retirement.[14] Dr. Leung passed away in Vancouver, Canada in 2013, at the age of 91.

History will always commemorate Dr. Pien's and Dr. Leung's important contributions to the development of TCM and acupuncture overseas.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Reference>Fan AY, Stumpf SH, Faggert AS, Matecki A. Distribution of licensed acupuncture and educational institutions in the United States at the start of 2018. Complement Ther Med. 2018;41:295-301.  Back to cited text no. 1
Bin ST. Chinese Teas and Herb Sanitarium. USA: San Francisco Chronicle; 1894.  Back to cited text no. 2
James R. Now Let me Tell you About my Operation in Peking. New York, USA: The New Year Time; 1971.  Back to cited text no. 3
Li YM. Acupuncture Journey to American. China; 2011.  Back to cited text no. 4
Signer E, Galston A. Chinese Surgery: Needles for Painkillers. USA: St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 1971.  Back to cited text no. 5
Blanding J. Dr. White Impressed by Chinese Medicine on Trip. Boston USA: The Boston Globe; 1971.  Back to cited text no. 6
Harvey D. 1500 Doctors Pay to See Stanford Acupuncture Demonstration. Sacramento USA: The Sacramento Bee; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 7
Bian BQ. Organize Automatically to Fight for the Right to Practice Medicine. Glorious Memories USA: (American Foundation of Chinese Medicine, Co-editor of California History and Chinese Medicine Archives); 1999.  Back to cited text no. 8
Time Editor. 500 S.F. Doctors Watch Acupuncture. San Francisco USA: The San Francisco Examiner; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 9
Perlman D. 500 S.F. Doctors See Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco USA: San Francisco Chronicle; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 10
Time Editor. Two Chinese Doctors Show Acupuncture to SF Medics, Relieving Bock, Arthritic Pain. Sacramento USA: The Sacramento Bee; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 11
Perlman D. The Acupuncture Issue. San Francisco USA: San Francisco Chronicle; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 12
Li XT. Three Hundred Years of MengHe Medical School. China: XueYuan Press; 2010.  Back to cited text no. 13
Xia YB, He T. The Propagation and Spread of Chengjiang Acupuncture School in Hong Kong. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Vol. 10. Beijing China; 2013. p. 40-56.  Back to cited text no. 14
Fourkas T. At Capitol Md Gets Point of Acupuncture. Sacramento USA: Sacramento Bee; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 15
Weisser P. Acupuncture at the Capitol. San Francisco USA: San Francisco Chronicle; 1972.  Back to cited text no. 16
Time Editor. Acupuncture in Nevada. New York USA: The New York Times; Time; 1973.  Back to cited text no. 17
The Day in Sacramento. San Francisco USA: San Francisco Chronicle; 1975.  Back to cited text no. 18


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]


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