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March 8, 2021

Celebrating Dr. Miriam Lee on International Women’s Day

Chinese woman smiling with glasses, red blouse, and white blazer.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the legacy of Dr. Miriam Lee. She was a pioneer in the field of Acupuncture in the U.S., and helped legalize & popularize the practice. All California Acupuncturists owe her a great debt of gratitude & respect for our right to practice this medicine.

Good Trouble

Dr. Miriam Lee was a nurse, midwife, & acupuncturist in Asia before coming to the US. In her book Insights of Senior Acupuncturist she shares,

“When I first came to California acupuncture was illegal. I worked on an assembly line at Hewlett Packard and attended church, building a life for myself in this country where my medicine was against the law.”

Seeing the suffering of members of her community, she began to provide acupuncture treatments to friends and community members. Soon, those who had experienced the healing her treatments provided sent more and more patients her way.

Despite the negative public perception of non-Western medicine and the legal troubles she could face, her days were soon filled with desperate patients looking for relief from their ailments. “For 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, I saw between 75 and 80 patients a day,” she shares in Insights of Senior Acupuncturist

In 1974, Governor Ronald Reagan vetoed a bill that would have legalized Acupuncture in the state of California. The day after the veto, Dr. Miriam Lee was arrested for practicing medicine without a license.

Her patient’s came to her aide & packed the courtroom to protest her arrest for days on end. As a result, acupuncture was allowed as an experimental treatment until it was officially legalized in 1976.

Dr. Lee’s 10 Needle Treatment

During the time when she was quietly treating 75 to 80 patients a day, Dr. Lee became deeply curious about the root causes & most effective ways to treat the wide variety of challenges that America’s stressed & depressed population faced. She had little time to do the deep diagnosis she had been trained to do with each of her patients; there had to be a more simple way to envision the issues at stake across her patient population. It was through the busy-ness and pressure of this practice that she discovered the power & potency of what is now known as “Miriam Lee’s Great 10 Needle Treatment.”

She reached into the classic texts of Chinese Medicine for support and found some answers in the Nei jing,

“When the stomach and spleen, the central jiao, are attacked by emotion, pure qi cannot ascend to the brain, and the evil qi, the waste, cannot descend. It will remain stuck in the stomach.”

In her own words, “during those years when I had no time for diagnosis beyond recognizing ‘here is a person whose central jiao has been attacked by emotion,’”(Insights of Senior Acupuncturist).

Her book provides a wonderful foundational framework for acupuncturists, and then she devotes many chapters and case studies to the power of her simple point formulation: Stomach 36, Spleen 6, Large Intestine 11, Large Intestine 4, and Lung 7. The power and beauty of this combination lies in its dual action: tonifying & building certain aspects of a person’s energy (their qi), and draining or cooling harmful, stuck, or overheated aspects of their qi. Her book is an essential for any acupuncturist’s bookshelf and is particularly beloved at community acupuncture clinics across the country because with these points we can provide safe, effective treatment for complex conditions.

Leading the Field

After she gained fame for her 1974 arrest, Dr. Miriam Lee continued to lead the field and push for progress by founding the Acupuncture Association of America. The Association led many efforts to educate the public about the power, safety, & effectiveness of Chinese Medicine, to educate Acupuncturists, and even to lobby for better legislation for acupuncture. We have Dr. Lee & her organization to thank for our broad scope of practice in California and the coverage that insurance & Medi-Cal offer for acupuncture treatments.

Master Tung

Miriam Lee was able to study with Master Tung Ching Chang in 1973, and she spread the word about his system of “Magic Points” in the US. Though she was only a student of Master Tung for a short time before his death, Dr. Lee along with another of Master Tung’s students, Dr. Wei-Chieh Young, Ph.D., are largely credited with popularizing Master Tung’s style of treatment in the US.

The medicine taught by Master Tung had been for generations a closely guarded, oral tradition passed down through a single family. Master Tung broke with tradition by taking on disciples outside of his family and publishing writings about the system. The Master Tung system has a separate set of acupuncture points from the traditional Acupuncture points taught in schools across the world and also has unique diagnoses and treatment methods. Many acupuncturists find great success in their clinical practice by incorporating wisdom from this tradition, and we thank Dr. Lee & other students of Master Tung’s lineage for bringing this wisdom to the US.

Read More About Dr. Lee

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