It’s become common among many traditional martial artists to appeal to traditional Chinese medicine (specifically chi and meridian theory) to explain some of the less obviously useful techniques and practices in various forms of training. The story of New York Times reporter James Reston’s appendectomy gets cited again and again as evidence of how effective TCM can be, and by extension how effective these training methods are. What’s overlooked is the fact that the story is mostly fabricated propaganda.
While the title is a bit of a stretch this article in Slate introduces some forgotten context to the story of TCM.
Rightfully wary of ethnocentrism, some scholars have suggested that negative judgments about Chinese medicine result from the misapplication of “Western” criticisms to “Eastern” thought. In the words of anthropologist Judith Farquhar: “The standards of argument by which we judge our own most rigorous explanations cannot be applied to Chinese medicine.”
But this produces an absurd picture of China as a mysterious place where logic doesn’t—and shouldn’t—apply. In truth, skepticism, empiricism, and logic are not uniquely Western, and we should feel free to apply them to Chinese medic…
…The second part of Mao’s project was to provide Westerners with sensational evidence of Chinese medicine’s efficacy, particularly of acupuncture analgesia. The watershed moment was in 1971, when New York Times editor James Reston wrote an article entitled “Now, Let Me Tell You About My Appendectomy in Peking.” In it, he recounted how Wu Weiran of the Anti-Imperialist Hospital had administered “a standard injection of Xylocain and Bensocain” before removing his appendix. Later, while Reston recovered, acupuncture was used to relieve pain from post-operative gas. Eager to believe in mystical Eastern miracle workers, credulous Westerners misreported the story, claiming that acupuncture had been used as an anesthetic during Reston’s appendectomy, a falsehood that still has currency.