The major overhaul that the acupuncture profession is considering comes down to one word: “Oriental.”
In the United States, the word “Oriental” has historically been used to describe the comprehensive system of medicine that includes acupuncture and associated therapies, but recently there has been a push for the acupuncture profession to remove it from its official nomenclature. This removal would affect the name of board certifications, the certifying body that awards them, schools, and degrees they award.
The word “Oriental” technically means “pertaining to the East,” but it has other—and othering—connotations, exotifying this part of the world and perpetuating Western imperialist attitudes. It can also be a racial slur.
You might have noticed that, whenever we use the word “Oriental” elsewhere on our website, not by choice but because it is part of the official name of whatever we are referring to, we put an asterisk after it. This is why.
Some alternatives to the “O” word are already in use. For example, “East Asian” is standard in Washington, while the annual day designated for the celebration of acupuncture and associated therapies, formerly known as Acupuncture and Oriental* Medicine Day, has become Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Day.
One of the criticisms of the new terminology for this day is that it omits a number of the medicine’s valuable modalities, such as moxibustion and cupping. While our current workaround, “acupuncture and associated therapies,” is more representative in this regard, it doesn’t explicitly state that these are part of a comprehensive system of medicine, nor does it pay homage to the cultures in which this system of medicine originated. However, we hope that by emphasizing acupuncture, which is the most familiar of these modalities to Americans, this terminology isn’t so inventive that its recognizability suffers. After all, a history lesson doesn’t do much good without an audience.