• Gina Dang

Orientalism in Acupuncture

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, except when it’s laced with Eurocentric, xenophobic undertones and insidiously perpetuates structural racism.

As a first generation, Asian American (AA) practitioner with a background in Cultural Anthropology, it was difficult for me to turn a blind eye to Orientalism in acupuncture while I was in school. A deep shame resounds within me when I look at the degree certificate I received that reads “Master of Science in Oriental Medicine,” so when the opportunity to return for a doctorate in “Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine” came along, I was elated. Unfortunately, going into debt a few more thousands of dollars and putting more energy into academia to get a new certificate is a poor bandage for the deeper, lingering issue of racial injustice.

Prevalence of anti-Asian racism following the Trump administration and its seeming culmination with the Atlanta shootings have brought many members of the AA community to our knees. As we struggle to collectively make our way through the Covid pandemic, AA’s have also needed to grapple with a secondary pandemic of anti-Asian hate and violence. It’s certainly created reason to pause while I considered the topic of my doctoral thesis.

My advisors, colleagues, friends, and allies met my internal strife with great compassion. With their support, I settled with my decision - to make a film on medicine and anti-racism as my thesis project.

Below are the details of my project:

Question: What can the Asian American (AA) perspective contribute to the development of acupuncture, medicine and anti-racism in the US? How can we collectively heal from the impact of racial injustice?

Key concepts: Orientalism, diversity, inclusion, systemic racism, antiracism, allyship, integrative medicine, health justice

Abstract: A decade-long debate remains as to whether or not to remove the pejorative “Oriental” from professional nomenclature despite ongoing protest from both Asian and non-Asian stakeholders in the acupuncture field. While acupuncture institutions may not intend to maintain the superiority of the West over the East, the use of the outdated term is a testament to the enduring nature of systemic racism, and how it reinforces hierarchy and discrimination. Situated within a broader historical framework of racial division in the US, creating a more inclusive professional environment would not only benefit AA practitioners, but also encourage the diversity of perspective necessary to heal from the impact of racial injustice through these times. Because acupuncture is a discipline that borrows its knowledge from Asian heritage, those in the acupuncture profession are uniquely positioned to consider how well they align with the values of diversity and inclusion, and to define integrative medicine accordingly. Proper allyship requires mutual recognition that the aims of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism not only benefit the underrepresented, but is paramount to elevating the wider social community.

Project Outline: Interviews will be conducted with acupuncturists, other practitioners, academics, activists, artists, institutions, and other stakeholders on a rolling basis. Cinematic narration will document research and the experience of an AA acupuncturist engaging with stakeholders across geographical locations. Three "acts" will explore anti-racism in the context of medicine, community, and the individual with AA subjects and allies, considering the impact of the Trump administration, Western colonial history, and longstanding stereotypes of AAs that impede progress toward an anti-racist world. Interviews will focus on Orientalism within the acupuncture field, question how institutions play a role in supporting diversity and inclusion, and consider how we can potentially take action to collectively heal.

This project will evolve over the next year with a target completion date of April 2022. Here's how you can support the film:

  1. EMAIL me suggestions at ginadang@freedomcrow.com

Who needs to be in this film? Think - practitioners, academics, activists, artists, or any expert of their field whose work aligns with anti-racism and decolonization efforts.

2. VOLUNTEER - Do you or someone you know have film, sound design, or communications experience? Got stamina to assist during shoots? Join the team. I’m tentatively filming in the PNW, the Bay Area, and Southern CA. Locations may change pending interview confirmations.

3. DONATE - Independent filmmaking takes its toll on the mind, body, and wallet. Any contributions would be deeply appreciated. For now, you can Venmo @FCFilm

Lastly, follow me on social media @freedomcrowfilms to spread the news and stay updated on the project. Thank you in advance for your support. May you and your loved ones navigate these times in health and comfort.

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