The achievements and legacy of Dr Wu Lien-teh are perhaps better known outside Malaysia where he is highly regarded as the âplague fighterâ and father of modern Chinese medicine.
About 100 people in Penang however got a peek into his life and work during a public talk on âPlague Fighter Dr Wu Lien-teh: A Penang Hero who modernised medicine in Chinaâ at the Wawasan Open University main campus. The talk by Ong Lay Hong, Managing Director of Singapore Media Academy, a MediaCorp Enterprise, was part of the Penang Story Lecture series.
The crowd learnt how medicine and the world owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this humble doctor from Penang who shunned the limelight.Â
Ong shared that Dr Wu studied at Penang Free School and was awarded the Queenâs Scholarship of the Straits Settlement at the tender age of 17 (1896). He enrolled at Emmanuel College, Cambridge becoming the Universityâs first Chinese medical science student.
After graduating in 1902, he continued his medical research at the John Hopkins University and the Japanese Imperial University of Tokyo; eventually he returned to Malaya in 1905 to practice. At the invitation of the Viceroy of the Qing Dynasty, he served in the Imperial Army Medical College in Tianjin.
Dr Wu and his team took measures to prevent further outbreak, including the restriction of travel in and out of the affected provinces, quarantine of the plague areas, cremating all corpses, and building hospitals to house the patients. Within four months, he had the crisis under control.
Subsequently, while serving as the Director of the Manchurian Plague Prevention Service of the North- Eastern provinces, he established the countryâs quarantine preventive system and more than 20 hospitals and medical schools.
Dr Wu and his family returned to Malaya in 1937, where he continued his medical practice in Ipoh for the next 20 years. For a brief period during the Japanese Occupation, he was kidnapped and held for ransom, but released with the intervention of a Japanese officer (a former patient).
Dr Wu passed away in his hometown Penang on 21 January 1960 after a sudden stroke at age 81. His legacy of the principles he used to combat plague in China are still relevant today.
Among the attendees at the talk – jointly organised by Think City, Penang Heritage Trust, Old Freesâ Association and WOU â were Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and WOU Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) Prof Datoâ Dr Ho Sinn Chye.