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CCAS Trips to China in the Early 1970s

Acupuncture Therapy

Guangzhou Deaf-Mute School
Guangzhou Deaf-Mute School on June 25, 1971. Note the Quotations of Mao on each desk. Female medical workers from a military unit are using acupuncture to treat the children.
Children Receiving Acupuncture Treatment at School
Children in the Guangzhou School for the Deaf Mute receive acupuncture treatment, June 25, 1971.

A small cluster of photos emerged from among the thousands made by the CCAS delegations depicting rarely-seen images of acupuncture therapy during Cultural Revolution. The first delegation was taken to the Guangzhou Deaf-Mute School, known at that time for its experimental use of acupuncture to treat deafness. One photo showed a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) member inserting an acupuncture needle into a student’s lower arm (figure 31). The PLA’s presence and role as medical staff were the result of Mao’s decision to place members of the Army into civilian and public administration. The delegation recounted that “the needle was long, thin, and silvery in color,” and that the PLA member “inserted the needle to a depth of about one-and-half inches, rotating it gently” (CCAS 1972, 61). The feedback they gathered from the school indicated that not all of the students responded to the treatment equally well.

Revolutionary Performance
Young people stage revolutionary performance featuring soldier providing medical care, summer 1971.
Young Students Performing Revolutionary Routine
Young students performing revolutionary routine, summer 1971.

Two photos were taken during a performance presented by the students of the Guangzhou Deaf-Mute School. One photo shows a skit in which a soldier provides medical care for the villager, most likely using acupuncture on the ear. The other photo captures a group of female students dancing and singing. The large character signs behind the students show a fragment of the once-popular slogan “Qiannian tieshu kai le hua, Rujin yaba kaikou shuole hua” (“The fact that mutes can eventually speak in the new era is as magical as flowers blooming out of an iron tree”). This slogan originated in the 1969 documentary film “Chairman Mao’s Victory on a Proletarian Health Route” which depicted the inspirational story of a mute and deaf village girl who, after going through acupuncture treatment, learned to shout out “Long live Chairman Mao!” (Hong 1969). The performance at the school echoed a nationwide call for the use of acupuncture to treat the mute and deaf.

Brain Surgery, Jinan
A patient with acupuncture anesthesia
A Surgery of Acupuncture Anesthesia
Photo taken on July 16, 1971 at the No. 3 Hospital attached to the Beijing Medical College. The group witnessed surgery on a patient who had just had an ovarian cyst removed. She received acupuncture anesthesia, doctors explained, and thus was conscious throughout the procedure.

What the CCAS delegations found even more dramatic about this ancient Chinese medical technique was the use of acupuncture for pain relief in the operation room. Two photos provide a glimpse of surgeries assisted with acupuncture anesthesia. The fact that both delegations were invited to observe and take photos of such surgical procedures suggests that China wanted the Western world to know how rigorously and effectively the ancient technique was being adopted in the medical field. Indeed, press coverage of surgeries in China using acupuncture anesthesia incited the curiosity of the Western medical world and led to a brief period of popularity of acupuncture therapy in the United States (Kaptchuk 1983, ix).