Acupuncture Anesthesia on American Bodies: Communism, Race, and the Cold War in the Making of “Legitimate” Medical Science

Thursday, September 23, 2021

This article explores the brief American fascination with acupuncture anesthesia, a technique in which needling was used in place of, or in combination with, chemical anesthetics during surgery. In 1971, a series of American medical delegations began traveling to China to observe the procedure and gauge its viability. While some of these physicians were optimistic about the technique’s therapeutic possibilities, others were antagonistic to its feasibility in an American context. Previous studies have explained the quick rise and rapid delegitimization of acupuncture anesthesia by invoking the professional interests of biomedical doctors. In contrast, this article rethinks the history of the procedure by casting it against the backdrop of the Cold War. In discussions about the legitimacy of the technique, assumptions about race, communist politics, and Cold War bipolarity were omnipresent, causing acupuncture anesthesia to become a synecdoche for the promises and perils of Chinese communism writ large.