Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dr Wu Lien Teh - the bodhisattva from Penang

There was a local lecture yesterday about the great son of Penang who helped stamped the Black Death Pneumonic Plague in China in the 1910 to 1930s - Dr Wu Lien-Teh (popularly pronounced in Hokkien dialect as "Woo Lian Tay" but it is actually a transliteration of the mandarin name "Wu Lian-de". But in his schooling days in Penang Free School, he is better known as Ng Lean Tuck (although I personally think that it should be Lean Teik since "de" in mandarin is "teik" in Hokkien). His father's name was said to be "Ng Khee Bok". He was born on March 10, 1879. "Ng" is his family name (Wu) in Hokkien dialect. Otherwise, in cantonese, his name is spelled as "Gnoh Lean Tuck". "Gnoh" is his family name in cantonese. "Wu" is in mandarin. In other people, it is sometimes spelled as "Goh".  He had done great deeds to help sentient beings and I greatly adore his sense of duty and responsibility to help mankind even though there was almost zero % guarantee that he will ever leave the plague region alive. He was invited by China to help. He accepted it. I read that another doctor from the Chinese Imperial Navy declined. He got a Queens scholarship and went to England to study medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. The name he used (and inscribed on Penang Free School wall) was "Gnoh Lean Tuck". He had a string of other degrees (some of these are honorary).  But he did many researches and several of them very valuable in epidemic study. One of his treatises was published in a journal to the Leagues of Nations (now known as United Nations) and as a result he was the first person of Chinese descend to be nominated to a Nobel Prize for Medicine. He established many hospitals, labs and associations in China and help founded the Chinese Medical Association. The Qing dynasty people greatly adored him and so did the subsequent governments. He served whatever government was in power and was not the least interested in politics. He also stood up for anti-opium and its ban from trade. Read more about this great man in this link -

Even though he may not be an active Buddhist in Buddhist activities, but he truly contributed in a great way to mankind... and I suspect in dealing with the epidemic he might have appeased the animals (rats that were skinned for their mink, and that which caused the disease). I am sure he was reborn in one of the high heavens as a great god. People like him are also likely candidates for a manifestation of a Buddha/Bodhisattva. Even though he may or may not be one, but just by his deed alone, I dare say he was indeed a Bodhisattva! I adore and respect this kind of people more than people who wear Buddhist robes but disgrace the religion by their pretence and mambo-jambo concocted "religious teachings". It was a pity that while he tried his best to help the people in China during the plague, his family in Malaysia, through his first marriage, had to suffer. I heard that his wife, and his children all died one by one. They never lived long. Sometimes helping others is like that. Even though on a scientific level, we say that the diseases are caused by bacteria, but there could possibly be an underlying spiritual cause to it as well. And these spiritual causes are unknown to scientists. Spiritual causes are like karma. When people kill animals, they create bad karma. And there are animal demons/spirits that responded to the human bad karma and this manifested externally as bacteria spreading. Through Dr Wu's endeavour to help people, there might have been evil spirits that hated the way he helped people. While the demons were not able to "get" at him, they took revenge by "getting" his family members. I learned that Master Hsuan Hua had also once cautioned people to be careful in helping others, especially in using mantras to cure diseases. So, even though spiritual magic was possible to be used to help people, one must exercise tremendous care in using it. Use it in a not-so-obvious way. We are not Sathya Sai Baba. Even Sathya Sai Baba himself was not spared. His genuine powers were doubted by many and in his old age, it manifested as a debilitating disease to his body and it took away about 10 years of his life. He was originally predicted to live up to 96. He decisively bear all the brunt for our sake. So, these sort of things do happen to us when we try to help others. But if we do have bodhicitta, it's okay and is part and parcel of the activity of compassion. It happened also to Dr Wu, but he eventually re-married. The surviving descendants are from the subsequent marriage. When he came back to Malaysia, he also opened a clinic in Ipoh and he contributed many books to the Perak Library. He bought a house in Chor Sin Kheng Road, Penang and after one week of moving all his books and property back to Penang in 1960, he collapsed from a stroke and died on January 21, 1960. He lived up to the ripe old age of 80. He did not have to suffer a long and painful death. It might have been painful too but it was swift. Only people of huge karma need not have to suffer a long pre-death illness. He was not very much as well-known in Malaysia as he was in China. He lived a lower profile, and declined to join politics even though he was invited. Because of the low profile, I guess that was why the government of Malaysia never really took notice of him and never awarded him any posthumous national title. I feel that he deserved one. If Malaysia could award a "Tan Sri" title to P. Ramlee (a Malaysian local actor of Malay race, singer and entertainer famous in the 1960s and 1970s), why not to Dr Wu Lien Teh, who contributed to mankind (not just China). It is a mistake to see his contribution as just to China. Even Singaporeans were interested in this guy, especially during SARS disease, so much so that MediaCorp had produced a 3-part documentary on him. So, if Singapore and China could honour Dr Wu, why not Malaysia - the country of his birth? I don't see any excuses. His contribution was to China and not Malaysia? Absurd. Malaysia should be proud to have him invited to China to help in that situation of dire need. Other than a small road, a sport house in Penang Free School, and a residential garden named after him, he was not honoured in any other way befitting such a great man. Thus the Malaysian Federal Government and Penang State Government should both honour him pothumously as he should. It is not just my thinking but many people also think that he deseved so much more. Invite his descendants (especially the daughter - Wu Yu-ling) to receive it on his behalf. Neither him nor his family sought after such glories. He was giving selfless service. He did not obtain huge wealth from his duties in China. He did not crave for it. He died an ordinary citizen in Malaysia, unlike the hero he was while in China. But what a GREAT citizen he was - a bodhisattva citizen!    

When he first investigated the plague, he did some tests and confirmed it was spread through the air. Anotehr doctor from the West did not believe it was possible that the bacteria could spread by air, and thus the Western doctor died. The turning point of the plague came after he stumped upon a pile of dead corpse. It was said that it was the cultural or superstitious belief at that time not to cremate the dead. But because the ground during winter was hard, they could not bury all of the numerous dead bodies. There were many such piles across the regions. These piles were the source of the deadly bacteria and Dr Wu quickly sought the permission of the imperial palace to burn these corpses. After that, the number of victims reported daily slowly decreased and eventually the plague was over. From a spiritual standpoint, the pile of dead bodies are where the unhappy departed ones congregate. Because they were not provided with a proper "sending off", most of them hang around the place in sorrow (caught by group karma). For the first time, cremation was done in China and the deceased all departed from the area. That was the likely spiritual reason behind the decline of the plague.

During the talk, there was a gentleman who disputed why the Harbin (of China) people (who built a museum in memory of Dr Wu) described Dr Wu as having a "Doctorate" when actually he was just a "Medical Doctor".  I personally feel that such a dispute arises out of self-interest only. Even though Dr Wu may be a medical doctor but he also had a masters degree. And while I am not sure of the Doctor of Science degree he obtained was a doctorate level or an honorary one, still I feel that he did many researches and he wrote many treatises just like a PhD holder would. And the most important thing was that his peers at that time had a high regard of him and if they did not think he was their equal, their universities would not have awarded to him so many honorary PhDs. So, I feel that he had the necessary skill and knowledge of a PhD holder and that is more important than having the paper itself. Many people have got the PhD paper, but they never did any other treatises or researches after obtaining it. Then what? Do you think these people deserve to keep their "Doctorate" title and Dr Wu did not? Such disputes are absurd. Describing Dr Wu as just a medical doctor would be hugely inaccurate considering the many lab and medical researches that he was involved in, even though he may or may not have a Doctorate paper. Dr Mahathir was not involved in any researches or written medical treatises like Dr Wu. Thus you cannot put Dr Wu in the same level as Dr Mahathir (i.e. a medical doctor). Anyway, it is only academic now. It will not have any impact at all on the great man. If he knew of this sort of dispute over his doctorate title, I am sure he will just laugh it off. That is not the measure of a man. His contribution is. And I am sure he contributed much more than the man who brought or stirred up the dispute.   

Anyway then I read about the more recent plagues and apparently there are still plagues happening in remote places around the world. Just google "black death" or "epidemic plagues" and you will find many cases in wikipedia. One such case happened in 2008 to a US biologist. Read below.  

In that article, there was this question of what might be the next big epidemic? Well, we have seen one caused by pigs and one caused by birds in recent years. I think that we might have one that is caused by fish or seafood. Pray hard we don't get to see it happen.

By the way, Dr Wu also wrote his own autobiography entitled " Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician". It was published by Cambridge. I hope to get this book. He also co-wrote with K. Chimin Wong a compilation called " The History of the Chinese Medicine". Someone during the talk said that it is the only book written in English on the subject, and it still is.  

Picture from :

1 comment:

sangsuria007 said...

Countries, such as India, Egypt and the United Kingdom the M.D. is a research degree which is similar to a Ph.D.. But an M.D. is completed in 2 years whereas a PhD is completed in 3 or more years. A Ph.D can be awarded to a medical doctor or a non medical trainee and is a higher degree than an M.D. which can only be awarded to medical trainees. As such Dr Wu is a real Doctor of Medicine.