Wu Lien-teh

Dr Wu Lien-teh, a Penang-born Cambridge medical alumnus of Chinese ethnicity who rose to prominence through his innovative public health efforts, based in Harbin, northern China, against a pandemic of pneumonic plague in Manchuria and Mongolia between December 1910 and March 1911, was the Director of National Quarantine Service in China between the years 1931 and 1937. In that plague outbreak, which originated among marmot hunters in Eastern Siberia, there were 60,000 deaths with no survivals, and public buildings including temples were used as temporary quarantine stations (Wu, 2007, p. 68).

Dr Wu’s delivery of the Fifth George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology in Canberra on 2 September 1935 was mentioned in a Broken Hill newspaper (Barrier miner, 4 September 1935, p. 3), when he defended the quality of Chinese residents in Australia as superior to the commonly held Australian perception of them as being no better than vegetable growers and laundry operators and workers. Dr Wu’s lecture is published in its entirety in the Australian National University journal East Asian history in December 2007 (Wu, 2007, pp. 61-77).

At the time of Dr Wu’s Morrison Lecture, he noted that there were only 20,000 Chinese residing in Australia; their numbers had been steadily declining since 1881, when there were 38,533 Chinese, of whom only 259 were women (Wu, 2007, p. 75). The speaker did not criticise directly the White Australia Policy. Instead he appeared to express greater pride in the professional and academic achievements of Australian-born Chinese men and women than in the sudden fortunes of the Chinese gold diggers (Wu, 2007, p. 75).

Due to the Sino-Japanese War, Dr Wu returned to Penang in 1937 and practised benevolent medicine there until his death at the age of 81 on 21 January 1960.


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