Who was Dr. Wu Lien-teh?
Dr. Wu Lien-teh was a surgical face mask pioneer who is celebrated in today’s Google Doodle on what would have been his 142nd birthday. The epidemiologist invented a surgical face covering that is considered the precursor to the N95 mask, widely used today to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The Chinese-Malaysian man pioneered the use of face masks to control an epidemic over a century before the advent of covid-19.
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Age
Born in Penang, Malaysia, on this day (10 March) in 1876, Wu would have been 142 years old.
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Early Life
Wu was born to a family of Chinese immigrants in Penang, Malaya, which is modern-day Malaysia. He became the first student of Chinese descent to earn his MD from Cambridge University before joining China’s Imperial Army Medical College as a vice-director in 1908.
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Wife
Wu married Ruth Shu-chiung Huang, whose sister was married to Lim Boon Keng, a physician who promoted social and educational reforms in Singapore. The sisters were daughters of Wong Nai Siong, a Chinese revolutionary leader, and educator who had moved to the area from 1901 to 1906.
Wu and his family moved to China in 1907. During his time in China, Wu’s wife and two of their three sons died.
He remarried and had four more children.
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Mask
In 1910, an unknown epidemic hit the Manchuria region and the Chinese government-appointed Wu to investigate. He identified the disease as a highly contagious pneumonic plague that spread through respiratory transmission, which became known as the Manchurian plague.
One of the ways Wu helped to combat the spread of the disease was by designing a surgical mask with cotton and gauze that included several layers of cloth to filter inhalations. Wu also advised people to wear his mask and worked with the government to establish quarantine stations and hospitals.
The doctor’s leadership helped to end the pandemic in April 1911—within four months of him being tasked with controlling the spread.
Wu founded the Chinese Medical Association, the country’s largest and oldest non-governmental medical association, in 1915. Twenty years later, Wu became the first Malaysian, and the first person of Chinese descent, to be nominated for the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Google Doodle
Google wrote: “A devoted advocate and practitioner of medical advancement, Wu’s efforts not only changed public health in China but that of the entire world. Happy birthday to the man behind the mask, Dr. Wu Lien-teh!”
Happy birthday to the man behind the mask: Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr. Wu Lien-teh 🔬🥼
— Google Doodles (@GoogleDoodles) March 10, 2021
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Family
Dr. Wu Lien-teh’s great-granddaughter, Dr. Shan Woo Liu, is an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. She has written a children’s book about him titled Masked Hero: The Story of Wu Lien-Teh.
Dr. Shan Woo Liu told Google: “We are honored that Google is celebrating our great-grandfather’s birthday. Just over a century ago, he helped fight off a plague in China and developed techniques such as mask-wearing that we still use today in our battle against COVID-19.”
Dr. Wu Lien-teh Descendants
In 2020, Dr. Yvonne Ho identified and united the 22 known Medical and Scientific Descendants of Dr. Wu Lien-Teh living in 14 different cities around the world. In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she organized the Inaugural Meeting of these descendants via video-conferencing.
In July 2020, a collaborative article by some of these medical and scientific descendants was published for the first time, to honor Dr. Wu’s lifetime work in Public Health. In August 2020, a second joint article to honor Dr. Wu was published by the second group of his medical and scientific descendants.