Yee backs down on Acupuncture Bill after outcry from Korean community

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(From New America Media)

By Aruna Lee and Summer Chiang


State Sen. Leland Yee bowed to pressure from the Korean community this week over a bill that would have put the word “Chinese” in the name of the state’s acupuncture licensing agency.

The version of Senate Bill 628 that Yee introduced in February would have changed the name of the California Acupuncture Board to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Board, in addition to officially recognizing and certifying practitioners of traumatology, the treatment of injuries. On Monday, the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development approved a version of the measure that was amended to keep the board’s current name.

The legislation had met with strong opposition from members of the state’s Korean community, who said the proposed name change ignored the fact that many Koreans continue to practice a similar form of medicine.

Soon after Yee’s proposal was announced, the Korea Times reports, the Association of Korean Asian Medicine and Acupuncture of California gathered more than 3,000 signatures statewide to oppose the name change. During a meeting with Yee in early March, the group urged him to back away from the new name, describing it as “offensive” to Korean and other Asian communities.

In-soon Lee, the head of the association’s Northern California branch, runs a private clinic in San Jose that administers traditional Korean medicine to patients. She said there are “over 50 members” in Northern California, all of whom run similar clinics. “They all participated in the petition opposing the name change,” Lee said.

In defense of the bill, Yee had explained that the existing title of the board does not do justice to the range of treatment administered by licensed practitioners, including herbal remedies, massage therapy and dietary recommendations. Yee called on fellow Chinese-Americans to support the bill “to protect our culture.”

Yee is running for mayor in San Francisco, a city that is roughly one-fifth Chinese. He lacks the support of influential Chinatown leader Rose Pak, who helped engineer the appointment of interim Mayor Ed Lee and has been trying to persuade Lee to run in November. Yee’s decision in February to side with the Chinese community over environmentalists in opposing a ban on the sale of shark fin drew considerable controversy.

Chinese medicine practitioners have welcomed SB 628’s expansion of licensing to fields beyond acupuncture. Three hundred supporters, mainly from the Bay Area, attended the committee hearing Monday in Sacramento. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the American Traditional Chinese Medical Traumatology Association hosted a news conference in San Francisco’s Chinatown in support of the legislation.

If the measure passes, California will become the first state to license practitioners of traditional medical traumatology, according to the World Journal.

Ho Ying Heng, president of the American Traditional Chinese Medical Traumatology Association, told the World Journal that Leland Yee had visited China three times to learn more about Chinese traumatology. The bill’s passage would mean a lot to the Chinese community and the traumatology industry, he said.

Iun Kang Cen, executive secretary of the American Traditional Chinese Medical Traumatology Association, added that the bill would give patients more protection, since the practice of traditional Chinese traumatology would be monitored by a government agency.

The traumatology provisions of the bill still stand, although large swaths of the text describing acupuncture as a part of traditional Chinese medicine have been excised.

“The Korean community and Korean acupuncturists should be completely fine with this,” Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff, said Thursday.

But some in the Korean community remain skeptical. In-soon Lee said she suspected Yee’s willingness to change had more to do with his mayoral ambitions in San Francisco than with her group’s concerns.

“If he makes a similar proposal in the future, we will be there to oppose it,” she said.


Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect the new version of Senate Bill 628 that was approved on Monday. The bill would expand licensing to practitioners who work in traditional Chinese Medicine traumatology. The amended bill omitted the provision that would have changed the name of the California Acupuncture Board to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Board.


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