Wu Lien-teh

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Dr. Wu Lien-teh portrait.

Dr. Wu Lien-teh (Chinese: 伍連德; pinyin: Wu Liándé; 10 March 1879 – 21 January 1960), also known as Goh Lean Tuck and Ng Leen Tuck in Minnan and Cantonese transliteration respectively, was a Malayan-born Chinese doctor and the first medical student of Chinese descent to study at the University of Cambridge.[1] He was also the first Malayan nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, in 1935.[2]


He was born in Penang, one of the three towns of the Straits Settlements (the others being Malacca and Singapore). The Straits Settlements formed part of the colonies of Great Britain. His father was a new immigrant from Taishan, China. His mother's family also originated from China but she was a second-generation resident of Malaya. Dr Wu had four brothers and six sisters. His early education was at the Penang Free School.

He was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1896,[3] after winning the Queen's Scholarship. He had a successful career at university, winning virtually all the available prizes and scholarships. His undergraduate clinical years were spent at St Mary's Hospital, London.

In 1903, Dr Wu returned to the Straits Settlement after finishing his medical studies. In September 1903 he joined the Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur as the first research student. However, there was no specialist post for him because, at that time, a two-tier medical system in the British colonies provided that only British nationals could hold the highest positions of fully qualified medical officers or specialists. Dr Wu spent his medical career researching beri-beri and roundworms (Ascarididae) before entering private practice toward the end of 1904 in Chulia Street, Penang.[citation needed]

He was a vocal commentator on the social issues of the time, and founded the Anti-Opium Association in Penang.[4] This attracted the attention of the powerful forces involved in the lucrative trade of opium. This led to a search and subsequent discovery of one ounce of tincture of opium in Dr Wu's dispensary, which was considered illegal, although he was a fully qualified medical doctor who had purchased this to treat opium patients. His prosecution and appeal rejection attracted worldwide publicity, including an invitation from the then Grand Councillor Yuan Shikai of the Chinese Government in Peking to take the post of Vice-Director of the Imperial Army Medical College in Tientsin (Tianjin).[citation needed]

In the winter of 1910, Dr. Wu Lien-teh was given instructions from the Foreign Office, Peking, to travel to Harbin to investigate an unknown disease which killed 99.9% of its victims. This turned out to be the beginning of the large pneumonic plague pandemic of Manchuria and Mongolia which ultimately claimed 60,000 victims. Dr Wu would be remembered for his role in asking for imperial sanction to cremate plague victims, as cremation of these infected victims turned out to be the turning point of the epidemic. The suppression of this plague pandemic changed medical progress in China.

Dr Wu chaired the International Plague Conference in Mukden (Shenyang) in April 1911, a historic event attended by scientists from the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, Mexico and China. He later presented a plague research paper at the International Congress of Medicine, London in August 1911 which was published in The Lancet in the same month. Dr Wu was the first president of the China Medical Association (1916–1920) and directed the National Quarantine Service (1931–1937).[5]

In 1929, he was appointed a trustee of the 'Nanyang Club' in Penang by Cheah Cheang Lim, along with Wu Lai Hsi, Robert Lim Kho Seng and Lim Chong Eang. The 'Nanyang Club', an old house in Peiping, China, provided convenient accommodation to overseas Chinese friends.[4]

In 1937, during the Japanese occupation of much of China and the retreat of the Nationalists, Dr Wu moved back to Malaya where he worked as a general practitioner in Ipoh. To encourage the young to share his love for reading, Dr Wu tirelessly collected donations to start the Perak Library (now The Tun Razak Library) in Ipoh, a free-lending public library. In his medical practice he gave free consultation and treatment to the poor. He practised medicine until the age of 80, when he bought a new house in Penang for his retirement. He died on 21 January 1960, aged 81.

A road named after Dr Wu can be found in Ipoh Garden South, a middle-class residential area in Ipoh. In Penang, a private road named Taman Wu Lien Teh is located near the Penang Free School.[6]. In that school, his alma mater, a house has been named after him.

Dr. Wu Lien-teh is regarded as the first person to modernize China's medical services and medical education. In Harbin Medical University, bronze statues of him commemorate his contributions to public health, preventive medicine and medical education.[7]


  1. ^ Wu Lien-Teh, 2014. Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician. Penang: Areca Books.
  2. ^ Wu, Lien-Teh. "The Nomination Database for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1901-1953".
  3. ^ "Tuck, Gnoh Lean (Wu Lien-Teh) (TK896GL)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ a b Cooray, Francis; Nasution Khoo Salma. Redoutable Reformer: The Life and Times of Cheah Cheang Lim. Areca Books, 2015. ISBN 9789675719202
  5. ^ Courtney, Chris (2018), "The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Central China Flood", Cambridge University Press [ISBN 978-1-108-41777-8]
  6. ^ Article in Chinese. "Picture of "Taman Wu Lien Teh"". Archived from the original on 2011-08-27. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
  7. ^ Article in Chinese. "130th memorial of Dr. Wu Lien-the". Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2011-06-01.

Further reading[edit]

  • Wu Lien-Teh, 1959. Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician. Cambridge. (Reprint: Areca Books. 2014)
  • Yang, S. 1988. Dr Wu Lien-teh and the national maritime quarantine service of China in 1930s. Zhonghua Yi Shi Za Zhi 18:29-32.
  • Wu Yu-Lin. 1995. Memories of Dr Wu Lien-Teh: Plague Fighter. World Scientific Pub Co Inc.
  • Flohr, Carsten. 1996. The plague fighter: Wu Lien-teh and the beginning of the Chinese public health system. Annals of Science 53:361-80
  • Gamsa, Mark. 2006. The Epidemic of Pneumonic Plague in Manchuria 1910–1911. Past & Present 190:147-183
  • Lewis H. Mates, ‘Lien-Teh, Wu’, in Douglas Davies with Lewis H. Mates (eds), Encyclopedia of Cremation (Ashgate, 2005): 300-301. [1]
  • Penang Free School archive [2]