Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Wu Lien-Teh bust

About 10 days ago, I had made a post in The Old Frees' Association facebook group asking people to guess where this bust of Dr Wu Lien-Teh was located. There were several replies but only two guessed the location correctly.

The Wu Lien-Teh bust stands prominent today in the grounds of the Penang Institute in Brown Road, Penang. Anyone driving into the premises of the Penang Institute should not fail to notice the bust since it stands tall near the entrance, although many will fail to recognise who it is supposed to resemble. But yes, that's a fine representation of Wu Lien-Teh himself, the plague fighter that fought and eradicated the disease in China in the 1910s.

In late 2011 when I was co-editing Fidelis, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association, it had come to my knowledge that there was a bust of Wu Lien-Teh outside the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Memorial Museum in Harbin, China.

Knowing that Wu Lien-Teh was the famous plague fighter was one thing but to learn that the man was still revered in China almost a century after the eradication of the disease was startling.

And Wu Lien-Teh wasn't even a Chinese Chinese although at that time the overseas Chinese still showed a strong allegiance to their fore-father's motherland; he was a Chinese Malayan (or a Chinese Malaysian, to be more politically correct) -- born in Penang, studied in Penang, had his further studies in England, returned to work in Penang, then worked in China, came back to work in Ipoh, retired to Penang, died in Penang and cremated in Penang. A true son of the Malaysian soil.

In April 2011, I began writing stories about Wu Lien-Teh in my blog. Like many of my other writings, the stories on Wu Lien-Teh weren't meant to be anything more than to fill my space with my opinions of things. One year later in May 2012, I was a bit surprised to learn that Think City was organising a Penang Story talk on Wu Lien-Teh, the main presenter being a lady from Singapore's Media Corp which had produced a documentary on Wu Lien-Teh's life some four years earlier. Among the audience were three gentlemen representing the First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in China. After the talk, Think City's Anwar Fazal suggested that a bust or statue could be made of Dr Wu and placed at a prominent location in Penang, which Dr Ye Tian of the First Affiliated Hospital readily replied that China stood ready to donate a bronze bust anytime. By October that year, the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society had been formed in Penang. In January 2013 the bust - sculptured by Dong Doudou - was unveiled to a group of visitors from Penang and Singapore.

However, it was not until March 2014 that the bust was transported from China and erected on a pedestal near the front gate of the Penang Medical Centre in Sepoy Lines. In the early days of the Wu Lien-Teh Society, the Penang Medical Centre had played a pivotal role in the club's activities, notably in assisting to organise the first Wu Lien-Teh Symposium. But with a change in the medical centre's management, their focus drifted away. Together with their loss in interest in the society's activities, the bust was relocated to near the back entrance of the medical college, looking over the Polo Ground.

For much of 2015 and the first half of 2016, the Society laboured to find a new home for the Wu Lien-Teh bust. Various alternatives were sought, including moving the bust to the Armenian Park at the corner of Acheen Street and Armenian Street, but eventually, it was settled on the Penang Institute grounds after it was offered by the Penang Government. The relocation exercise was completed in June 2016.

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