Who Is Dr. Wu Lien-Teh? Early Life, Career, & Death

The Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr. Wu Lien-teh discovered face masks to control an epidemic more than a century before the advent of covid-19.

At the tip of 1910, a pneumonic plague epidemic occurs in China, just like the cause of the COVID-19. Some political nations wanted to use that outbreak as a guise to overrun northeast China, making the plague a climax of international politics.

That was when Dr. Wu Lien-teh came to the rescue. He was the first Chinese medical graduate from Cambridge. Dr. Wu Lien Teh did an incredible scientific performance in the history of China and impacted the world.

In this piece, we will talk about how the world depended on the skills of Dr. Wu Lien-Teh when a relentless pandemic outbreak, just like what we’re experiencing today.

Who Is Dr. Wu Lien-Teh?

Who is Dr. Wu Lien-Teh? At the end of 1910, a pneumonic plague epidemic arises in China, just like the case of the COVID-19. Some political nations wanted to use that outbreak as a pretext to invade northeast China, making plague an issue of international politics.

That was when Dr. Wu Lien-teh came to the rescue. He was the first Chinese medical graduate from Cambridge. Dr. Wu Lien Teh did an incredible scientific performance in the history of China and impacted the world.

In this article, we will talk about how the world relied on the skills of Dr. Wu Lien-Teh during a severe pandemic outbreak, just like what we’re experiencing today. So please read on as we set the ball rolling.

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His Profile

NameDr. Wu Lien-Teh
Date Of BirthMarch 10, 1879
DiedJanuary 21, 1960
PrefessionPhysician, researcher, painter
Notable WorkPlague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh early Life And Biography

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh was born on March 10, 1879, in Penang, Malaysia. His father was a recent immigrant from Taishan, China, and worked as a goldsmith.

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh has four brothers and six sisters. He had his early education in the Penang Free School and went to Emmanuel Colege, Cambridge, in 1896, with the Queen’s Scholarship.

He had a successful career at university, winning virtually all the available prizes and scholarships. He was outstanding in his studies at the university and garnered so many noble accolades and scholarships.


Dr. Wu Lien-Teh spent his undergraduate clinical years at St Mary’s Hospital, London, and continued his studies at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

His Professional Career

In 1910, a deadly epidemic broke out in the northeastern region of China, just like the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in our time. Within the four months, it had claimed over 60,000 lives.

After Dr. Wu Lien-Teh arrived at Harbin, he performed the first-ever postmortem exam in China on a Japanese woman who had died from the epidemic.

He discovered “Yersinia Pestis” in the body tissues and further concluded that the epidemic was a pneumonic plague, which could be transmitted by human breath or sputum.

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh designed a mask made from cotton and gauze, with extra layers of cloth and more secure ties to improve on previous designs.

He encouraged medical staff and others to wear these surgical masks to protect themselves, the first time widespread mask use had been part of an epidemic control strategy. His discovery was contrary to the general idea that plague could only be transmitted by rats or fleas and could not be transmitted from person to person.

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Dr. Wu Lien-Teh

Dr. Mesny, a famous French doctor, was one of those who questioned Dr. Wu’s views. After protesting to wear gauze and a mask, Dr. Mesny died of pneumonic plague several days later and caught the epidemic infection. His death shocked the international community.

He was the first person to advise the authorities on imposing lockdown. The lockdown includes stopping trains, limiting the spread of the disease, and instructing sick people to be self-isolated before they have fully recovered.

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh hosted an international conference on the plague that year, helping broadcast knowledge about responding to outbreaks.

He was elected as president of the conference, and all highly praised his work on plague prevention. Per his knowledge of the plague, modern medical science was established in China soon after the conference. Dr. Wu always stood as a fighter at the forefront in the battle to prevent the plague.

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh And Family

Photo credit: https://biblioasia.nlb.gov.sg/

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh’s wife was called Ruth Shu-Chiung Huang. The duo was blessed with three children. In 1907, he moved to China with his family, and something dreadful happened. He lost his wife and two of their three sons. He remarried and had four more children.

He had three daughters, Yu-Lin, Yu-Chen, and Yu-Chu, and two sons, Chang-Sheng and Chang-Yun. This family photograph shows Dr. Wu Lien-teh and his second wife, Madam Marie Lee Suk Cheng, with their five children.

A Penang-born physician, Dr. Wu, his two sons, and youngest daughter, Pearl Yu-chu, are dressed in Western attire. Mrs. Wu and the two older girls are in cheongsams.

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How Did Dr. Wu Lien-Teh Die?

Dr. Wu Lien-Teh’s contributions to modern medicine in China were of great importance during his time. And now, he is regarded as the first person to modernize China’s medical services and education. He remains unforgotten, and his work serves us, such as when SARS suddenly broke out in 2003.

Death and commemoration. Dr. Wu Lien-Teh practiced medicine until his death at the age of 80. On January 21, 1960, he died of a stroke while in his home in Penang. On 10 March 2021, a Google Doodle celebrated what would have been his 142nd birthday.

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