Wu Lien Teh (Dr) (伍连徳; 1879-1960) was a Penang-born doctor who was known internationally for successfully eradicating a deadly outbreak of the plague in northern China and Manchuria in 1910 and 1920. He was known as a “plague fighter”.
Wu came from a family of five sons and his mother was a Hakka born in Penang, Malaysia. His father was Cantonese and migrated from Taishan, Guangdong Province in China to Penang, where he ran a successful business as a goldsmith. Wu received his early education at the Free School in Penang from 1886 to 1896, where he excelled and won many prizes. He was known as Gnoh Lean Tuck in school, a name he continued to use during his Cambridge education and career in London hospitals. When he became a qualified doctor, he was registered as G.L. Tuck. In 1896, Wu won the only Queen’s scholarship of that year and left Penang to study medicine as the first medical student of Chinese descent in Cambridge University in England. He returned and took up private practice in Chulia Street, Penang. He was also one of the editors of the Straits Chinese Magazine, together with Song Ong Siang and Lim Boon Keng (Dr), who was the elder brother of his first wife. During this period, he also founded the Anti-Opium Society and engaged in social reforms.
In 1908, Wu was appointed as the vice-director of the Imperial Army Medical College in China to train doctors for the Chinese Army. He chaired the first international scientific conference held in China – the International Plague Conference – in 1911, toward the end of the Manchurian epidemic that he had helped to quell. Following this, the Manchurian Plague Prevention Service was established, with Wu as its head. In 1915, the first Chinese Medical Association was established. Wu was a pioneer in the early modernisation of Chinese medical services and was appointed Chief Technical Expert of the Ministry of Health. He assumed a key role in the early development of China’s western medicine, public health and medical education. In 1916, he was conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) by the University of Hong Kong and, in 1922, he was conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) by St. John’s University in Shanghai. In 1923, Wu became the first Chinese to be invited to Japan as a visiting professor. He was also elected as a Foundation Member of Academia Sinica, as well as a Foreign Member of the Society of Microbiology of USSR in Russia.
Wu returned to Malaya in 1937 where he established his own private clinic and spent the remaining years of his life in Penang and Ipoh. In 1957, he donated his personal book collection of 20,000 volumes to the former Nanyang University. This later became part of the library collection at the National University of Singapore (which was established with the merger of Nanyang University and the University of Singapore). Wu suffered a stroke and passed away in his home in Penang on 21 January 1960.
Selected works by Wu Lien Teh
Wu, L. T. (1926). A treatise on pneumonic plague. Geneva: League of Nations Health Organization.
Call no.: RCLOS 616.9232 WU -[WLD].
A classic description of the pneumonic plague by Wu Lien Teh after his extensive experience with the epidemic in Manchuria. In this publication, he points out that plague outbreaks are caused by direct contact with plague victims, contaminated objects or through human parasites.
Wu, L. T., & Wong, C. M. (1936). History of Chinese medicine; being a chronicle of medical happenings in China from ancient times to the present period. Shanghai: National Quarantine Service.
Call no.: RCLOS 610.951 WAN -[WLD].
In this acclaimed publication, the authors present a chronicle of medical happenings in China from ancient times to present day. The first part of the work covers pure Chinese art and practice while the second part examines events after the beginning of occidental medicine.
Wu, L. T., & Ng, Y. H. (1949). The Queen’s scholarships of Malaya, 1885-1948. Penang: Penang Premier Press.
Call no.: RCLOS 378.3409595 WUL -[RFL].
This paper provides an overview of the Queen’s scholarship that was awarded to Malayan students to enable them to obtain higher qualifications in England. It also includes the list of Queen’s scholars from 1885 to 1949.
Wu, L. T. (1959). Plague fighter: The autobiography of a modern Chinese physician. Cambridge: W. Heffer.
Call no.: RCLOS 926.1 WU -[WLD].
Wu writes in the foreword of this autobiography that he was able to begin his long years of anti-plague, health, medical and social welfare work as well as other lines of work with less difficulty in a conservative old country such as China because of his experience in stemming the plague in Manchuria. This personal account of Wu’s life took seven years to produce and encompasses a wide range of topics, hence, readers of different disciplines and countries will be interested this work.
Selected books on Wu Lien Teh
Wu, Y. L. (1995). Memories of Dr Wu Lien-Teh: Plague fighter. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.
Call no.: RSING 610.92 WU
Compiled by Wu Yulin, the eldest daughter of Wu Lien Teh, this pictorial biography contains more than 200 photographs about the life and work of Wu. It is hoped that this publication, together with Wu’s autobiography, will inform and inspire generations of medical practitioners on issues of global health and justice.
(2006). 爱国侨胞, 防疫泰斗 : 伍连德. 哈尔滨: 哈尔滨市政协. 文史和学习委员会.
Call no.: RCLOS 610.92 AGQ -[WLD].
This publication commemorates 80 years of the founding of Harbin Medical University by Wu Lien Teh in 2006. The work also includes articles and photographs that were compiled and translated from Wu’s autobiography.
陈雪薇 [Chen, X. W.]. (2014). 伍连德研究 : 经验、 认同、书写. 新加坡: 新加坡国立大学中文.
Call no.: RSING 610.92 CXW
An academic piece that presents the thoughts of Wu Lien Teh regarding social reforms and modernisation of medical services. This work comprises two main sections: Wu’s early years before he became known internationally as a plague fighter, and the author’s analysis of Wu’s thoughts and observations of the personalities in his era.
Selected newspaper articles on Wu Lieh Teh
蜚声国际鼠疫专家伍连德医生在梹辞世享寿八十有一·遗下二子三女. (1960, January 23).
南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau], Page 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article features news about the death of Wu Lien Teh.
Dr. Wu’s funeral (1960, January 23).The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article announced that the Penang Free School, Wu’s alma mater, would observe a half day observance at his passing as a mark of respect. It also covered Wu’s funeral.
Dr. Wu Lien Teh on China’s Past Glories. (1936, January 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article features remarks made by Wu on China’s past glories during a gathering at the Perak Chinese Amateur Dramatic Association. He was speaking on Overseas Chinese and sharing his observations with people living in Malaya and Dutch East Indies.
Dr. Wu Lien-Teh (1912, February 17). Weekly Sun, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
An article about Wu, including his educational background, career achievements and social reforms.
A $10,000 Book Collection for the Nanyang (1957, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article highlights Wu’s book donation to Nanyang University, which included 1,200 books covering various subjects such as history, philosophy and the art of China that were insured for $10,000. The article also mentions his past donations to other countries.
Medical Science (1912, March 6). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article features an interview with Wu Lien Teh, where he shares his views about the advances of modern medical science in the East. An introduction to his profile is also included.
Plague Prevention (1915, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is a summary of the steps taken to fight the plague in Manchuria by Wu Lien Teh. The report was sent for publication and was also addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Peking.