Legacy of Dr. Wu Lien Teh, The Story Behind the Manchurian Plague

Dr. Wu Lien Teh played a crucial role in educating the public about the Manchurian plague. He introduced a groundbreaking idea that initially shocked the people of his country but ultimately saved countless lives. Today, his innovative approach to fighting infections is widely followed around the world and has helped people cope with health crises like Covid-19.

Many people are grateful for his ingenuity and practicality, which have had a significant impact on the field of medicine. To learn more about Dr. Wu Lien Teh and his remarkable achievements, you can find detailed information here.

Details about Dr. Wu Lien Teh

Dr. Wu Lien Teh hailed from Penang, which was part of the Straits Settlements, and is now one of the states in Malaysia. His father was a goldsmith who had immigrated from Taishan, China, while his mother was a second-generation Peranakan of Haka descent. Wu grew up alongside four siblings and received his education at the Penang Free School.

In 1896, Wu was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and his academic career proved to be highly successful as he won the Queen’s Scholarship, along with numerous other awards and scholarships. During his undergraduate years, he took the opportunity to study at St Mary’s Hospital in London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

After returning to the Straits Settlements in 1900, Wu got married to Ruth Shu-chiung Huang, who was the daughter of Wong Nai Siong, a Chinese revolutionary leader and educator. However, his family moved to China in 1907, where Wu’s wife and three children later passed away. In Shanghai, he started a new family with Marie Lee Sukcheng, with whom he had four sons.

In 1931, during the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, Wu was accused of being a Chinese spy and detained by Japanese authorities. He later fled in 1937 when much of China was occupied by Japan and returned to the settlements of Ipoh. Unfortunately, he lost his collection of old Chinese medicine books in a fire.

The History of the Manchurian Plague

Dr. Wu Lien Teh was dubbed the “Plague Fighter” due to his vital role in researching the Manchurian Plague of 1910. This epidemic occurred during a tumultuous period in China’s history as the Qing dynasty was coming to an end, causing chaos and collapse. The disease was a pulmonary epidemic that claimed many lives, and it provided an opportunity for the Russian and Japanese governments to gain control over China.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Dr. Wu and other compassionate and knowledgeable physicians worked tirelessly to save China from the grips of this deadly disease. Dr. Wu’s investigations revealed that the plague was transmitted through the air. His contributions to medicine and disease prevention in China were invaluable, propelling him to a successful career as a doctor, where he continued to champion various causes aimed at controlling and eradicating diseases.

The medical research and discoveries of Dr. Wu Lien Teh

Wu was not only a medical professional, but also a commentator. In the winter of 1910, he was tasked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Qing imperial court to investigate a mysterious illness that had a mortality rate of 99.9%. This illness turned out to be the pneumonic plague, which eventually killed 60,000 people in Manchuria and Mongolia.

Despite opposition in China at the time, Wu conducted an autopsy on a Japanese woman who had died from the disease and discovered that the plague was airborne. He then developed the Wu mask, a surgical mask made of gauze and cotton that proved effective in filtering the air. When a French doctor, Gérald Mesny, replaced Wu, he died from the disease because he refused to wear a mask, thus proving the effectiveness of the Wu mask.

Wu oversaw the distribution of more than 60,000 masks during a later outbreak and ensured infected individuals were quarantined while buildings were disinfected. He also requested imperial permission to cremate plague victims, as the frozen ground made it impossible to bury the dead. The proper cremation of victims was a turning point in the pandemic, leading to its eventual eradication.

Wu’s discoveries and contributions to fighting the plague made him famous, and he was invited to attend a three-week conference where scientists from around the world witnessed demonstrations and experiments.

The death of Dr. Wu Lien Teh

Wu dedicated his life to practicing medicine, which he continued until his passing at the age of eighty. After retiring, he resided in his house in Penang and wrote a 667-page autobiography titled Plague Fighter, The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician. Sadly, Wu died of a stroke on January 21, 1960, at his home in Penang. In honor of his legacy, a road in the South Garden of Ipoh was named after him, located in a middle-class residential area.

Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Wu Lien’s remarkable work in the field of epidemiology has been widely recognized, particularly his research and discoveries that have become even more relevant today. In March 2021, Google Doodle honored Wu for his contributions by featuring him assembling surgical masks and donating them to prevent the spread of infection.

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