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Honoring Founding Director of Peking University People’s Hospital Dr. Wu Lien-teh

2021-03-10

On March 10, 2021, many activities are being held to celebrate the 142nd birthday of Dr. Wu Lien-teh, Nobel Prize nominee, pioneer of modern medicine in China and founding director of Peking University People’s Hospital (PKUPH), originally named Peking Central Hospital.

On March 10, 1879, Dr. Wu Lien-teh was born into a family of Chinese immigrants in Penang, Malaysia. He made a number of firsts in China’s medical history. He was the first student of Chinese descent to earn his MD from Cambridge University in the UK. In 1910, he was entrusted to lead the fight against the deadly pneumonic plague afflicted north-eastern China by the Chinese government, and successfully eradicated the plague within months. During the epidemic, Dr. Wu designed a mask with layers of gauze and cotton to filter inhalations to curb the spread of this highly contagious disease. He also initiated quarantines, applied progressive sterilization techniques and recommended cremating plague victims. The plague ultimately claimed approximately 60,000 lives but the number of deaths would have been even higher without Dr. Wu’s effective measures.

 

 

Due to his spectacular work in controlling the plague, he was dubbed the“Plague Fighter”and elected as the chair of the International Plague Conference, which was held in Shenyang, China in April, 1911. Experts from China, the US, Austria, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and Russia attended the Conference.

 

Group Photo of the International Plague Conference in 1911

(Fourth from the right in the front row is Dr. Wu Lien-teh)

 

Dr. Wu published papers in The Lancet and co-authored the book entitled “Plague”. He first proposed the concept of pneumonic plague in the world.

 

 

As a pioneer of modern medicine in China, Dr. Wu founded the Chinese Medical Association (CMA) in 1915. During his 30-year span in China, Dr. Wu established some 20 medical institutions including Peking Central Hospital (Currently named Peking University People’s Hospital) , the first general hospital financed and operated by Chinese nationals.

                

On January 27, 1918, Peking Central Hospital opened

 

In 1935, he became the first person of Chinese descent nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his“work on pneumonic plague and especially the discovery of the role played by the Tarbagan in its transmission”.

 

As a Nobel Prize nominee, published author, “plague fighter“ and Wu’s mask inventor, Dr. Wu’s work is still cited to this day as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

In early 2020, Dr. Wu’s successors-134 medical staff of PKUPH-convened in Wuhan, the hardest-hit city of the epidemic, to tackle the fast-moving outbreak. During the menace of COVID-19, our medical professionals across the nation and around the world have been at the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus, sacrificing their time, energy and selfless work hours on end, often exposing themselves to the deadly virus to treat others.

 

Big salute to medical staff across the world, and happy birthday to the man behind the mask, Dr. Wu Lien-teh!