Emily Baum - Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine
In the early 1970s, acupuncture suddenly burst into the American consciousness. The journalist James Reston, who had traveled to Beijing to report on China’s reopening to the Western world, suffered a burst appendix and was treated with acupuncture for his postoperative pain. From that moment, acupuncture became a word on every American’s lips – even if it was not yet a therapy that had penetrated their skin. This talk reconsiders the early history of acupuncture in the United States by tracing its journey from an all-but-unknown medical modality to a popular, albeit “alternative,” form of treatment. It argues that understanding this history requires not just a view toward American medicine but an appreciation of a wider global context, one that gives equal consideration to Chinese soft power and US-China relations during a pivotal moment in the Cold War.
Emily Baum is an associate professor of modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine. Her first book, The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China (University of Chicago, 2018) was shortlisted for the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) Best Book Prize in 2021. She is currently completing two projects: Needled: How Acupuncture Became Alternative, and an edited volume, Uncanny Beliefs: Superstition in Modern Chinese History (forthcoming from Harvard University Asia Center).