Little was known about the late Dr Wu Lien-teh until a SARS survivor came across his work while researching on infectious diseases. Since then, the eminent doctor has been recognised in China for his contribution to modern medicine.
Dr Wu is now widely regarded as a pioneer of modern medicine in China. He was Cambridge University’s first Chinese medical student and later founded some 20 modern public hospitals, laboratories and research institutions, including the Peking University People’s Hospital.
In 1910, at the age of 31, Dr Wu was sent to Manchuria (in present Harbin) in the severe winter to fight the terrifying pneumonic plague, which killed 60,000 people.
He asked for imperial sanction to cremate infected corpses and observe strict quarantine measures – efforts which proved effective in stamping out the plague.
Within a short period of four months, his work brought him international fame and marked the beginning of almost 30 years of devoted humanitarian service to China.
Nearly five decades after his death, the Wu Lien-teh Memorial Hospital in Harbin has been set up in honour of the Penang-born doctor.
It offers medical checkups for just under US$4 (RMB$25) by retired doctors and specialists, who volunteered to run the service. In doing so, they hope that Dr Wu’s legacy will serve as an inspiration for future generations.
Cardiology Professor Fu Shi-Ying, Wu Lien-teh Memorial Hospital, said: “The objective of setting up the hospital is not for profit. It is to support its museum and to adopt the true spirit of Dr Wu. Nowadays, most doctors focus on money and reputation. The aim of the hospital is to promote Dr Wu’s teaching.”
The building where Dr Wu had worked as the first director of the Manchuria Plague Prevention Service in 1912 was restored at a cost of some US$1.5 million.
“The restoration of an old building, compared to building a new one, requires twice the amount of money. Also, during restoration works, there were a lot of problems like the authorities saying we did not fulfil certain procedures. So we had to stop work for a few months while getting the papers in order,” said Prof Fu.
Despite the difficulties in the building project, the memory of Dr Wu lives on. His work has also been immortalised in a museum in Harbin, where he spent 22 years of his medical career.
Both the Wu Lien-teh Memorial Hospital and the Wu Lien -teh Memorial Museum are managed and owned by the Harbin Medical University – one of the several medical institutions founded by Dr Wu in the last century.