Chen Su Lan



Chen Su Lan, Dr (b. 1885, Fuzhou, Fujian, China–d. 5 May 1972, Singapore) was one of Singapore's first local medical graduates and is best remembered as a philanthropist and social reformer.1 In the 1920s and 30s, Chen led a campaign against opium addiction, which was widespread among poor labourers at the time. After narrowly escaping death during World War II, he founded the Chinese Young Men's Christian Association (Chinese YMCA) in 1946 and set up the Chen Su Lan Trust in 1947 to disburse funds and land for charitable causes.2

Early life
Chen was a third-generation Methodist, raised by his devout mother who was widowed when he was young.3 At age 15, he enrolled at the Anglo-Chinese College in Fuzhou, Fujian province in China. Soon after, he left China for Singapore, where he became one of the first students at the newly opened Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School (later renamed King Edward VII Medical School, then King Edward VII College of Medicine) in 1905.4 Chen was among the school's first batch of seven graduates in 1910, not only obtaining a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery but also topping his class.5


After graduation, Chen focused on his medical practice while at the same time offering his expertise and time to various committees, including the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Management Committee, the Central Midwives Board and the Council of the King Edward VII College of Medicine. He also founded the alumni association of the medical college and served as its president from 1923 to 1934.6

One of Chen's primary concerns early in his career was the social and health conditions in Singapore. In particular, he had a deep-seated interest in suppressing the use of opium,7 and also actively campaigned for the closure of public brothels in the late 1920s.8

Fight against opium
Chen initiated an anti-opium campaign in 1929, and was elected as the president of the Singapore Anti-opium Society in 1930. This campaign was considered to be a revival of an earlier anti-opium campaign that was initiated by Tan Boon Liat in 1906 and which petered out in 1911.9 In 1933, Chen founded an anti-opium clinic at 137 Kampong Java Road to treat opium addicts, many of whom were poor labourers who had turned to opium to ease their suffering.10 However, the clinic closed in 1937 after the outbreak of war in China led to donations being diverted to the China Relief Fund.11 Following World War II, the British government banned the use of opium in Malaya, which helped Chen's cause.12


Wartime brush with death
After the Japanese began their invasion of Malaya in December 1941, Chen tried to flee Singapore. On 13 February 1942, he boarded one of the last ships leaving the island. Unfortunately, the ship was attacked and bombed, and he found himself floating in the cold sea.13 With the help of a raft, he and a few other survivors managed to find land. Upon his return to Singapore, Chen was detained by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) as the Japanese believed that he and other Methodist church leaders were conspiring against them. He was later released when the Japanese could not prove their charges against him.14


Post-war years
Following the end of the Japanese Occupation, the British Military Administration invited Chen to join its advisory council.15 He used the council as a platform to speak out on social problems, including increased crime and vice, prevailing in Malaya as a result of the Occupation. To help solve these problems, Chen founded the Chinese YMCA (known as Metropolitan YMCA from 1974) in 1946 with the aim of helping the demoralised youths of Singapore.16 Chen was president of the association until 1949, when he handed over his responsibilities to the board of directors. However in 1954, he was asked to return to save the association from bankruptcy.17


In addition to eradicating opium use, Chen also worked to eradicate tuberculosis by regularly giving talks at the Singapore Rotary Club to raise public awareness.18 He subsequently co-founded the Singapore Anti-tuberculosis Association (SATA) in August 1947.19 In 1949, an anti-tuberculosis clinic was established at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.20

Chen actively participated in the Singapore Rotary Club, serving in various years as director and vice-president.21 He also served as the president of the Malayan Branch of the British Medical Association from 1949–50.22 In 1952, Chen was conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Singapore.23

Legacy of philanthropy
Chen left behind a legacy of philanthropy that continues to benefit the community today through the Chen Su Lan Trust which he set up in 1947. The trust started with mainly offering funds and land to Christian organisations such as the Scripture Union, but it has since extended assistance to various other organisations.24


The Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home was opened in 1968 with the help of the trust, which provided the land and contributed a substantial sum for the building of the home.25 During the centennial year of the National University of Singapore in 2005, the trust donated S$2.5 million to the university for the establishment of a professorship called the Chen Su Lan Centennial Professorship in Medical Ethics to honour its benefactor.26 Another beneficiary was the Muslim Kidney Action Association, which received a gift of S$100,000 from the trust in 2007.27

Writing about his experiences
Chen recounted his childhood days and his personal wartime experiences in a book he wrote titled Remember Pompong and Oxley Rise. This was an undertaking he had been planning since the Japanese Occupation, as a way to express his gratitude to God, but post-war developments kept him busy and the book was published only in March 1969.28


Death
Chen passed away on 5 May 1972 at the age of 87 after a long illness. He was survived by his wife, seven children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.29 His wife passed away five years later on 2 February 1977, also after a long illness.30




Author

Dinesh Sathisan



References
1. Death. (1972, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cheah, J. S., Ho, T. M., & Ng, B. Y. (2005). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 19C–24C. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 AMSAAM)
2. Cheah, J. S., Ho, T. M., & Ng, B. Y. (2005). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 22C. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 AMSAAM); Metropolitan YMCA Singapore. (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Metropolitan YMCA Singapore website: https://www.mymca.org.sg/AboutUs/Overview.aspx
3. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Singapore: Trinity Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore, np. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf
4. Cheah, J. S., Ho, T. M., & Ng, B. Y. (2005). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 20C & 22C. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 AMSAAM)
5. Cheah, J. S., Ho, T. M., & Ng, B. Y. (2005). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 22C. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 AMSAAM)
6. Cheah, J. S., Ho, T. M., & Ng, B. Y. (2005). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 22C. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 AMSAAM); Poon, W. O. (1968). Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3), 226. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
7. Poon, W. O. (1968). Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3). 225. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
8. Poon, W. O. (1968). Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3,) 226. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
9. Ang, S. L, et al. (2013). Selections: Early titles from the National Library. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 90. (Call no.: RSING 808.840095957 SEL)
10. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997, May). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Trinity Annual Conference website: http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf; Cheah, J. S., Ho, T. M., & Ng, B. Y. (2005). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 22C. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 AMSAAM)
11. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Singapore: Trinity Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore, np. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf
12. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997, May). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Trinity Annual Conference website: http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf
13. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997, May). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Trinity Annual Conference website: http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf
14. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997, May). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Trinity Annual Conference website: http://www.trac-cs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf
15. Poon, W. O. (1968). Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3), 226. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
16. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997, May). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Trinity Annual Conference website: http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf; Metropolitan YMCA Singapore. (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Metropolitan YMCA Singapore website: https://www.mymca.org.sg/AboutUs/Overview.aspx; Goh, R. (2007). Singapore's 'Two YMCAs': Christianity, colonialism, and ethnic fault lines. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 18(2), 29. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17. Goh, R. (2007). Singapore's 'Two YMCAs': Christianity, colonialism, and ethnic fault lines. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 18(2), 29. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
18. Opium smoking and tuberculosis. (1931, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieve from NewspaperSG.
19. SATA CommHealth. (2012). The SATA story: Celebrating 65 years of caring for the community. Singapore: SATA CommHealth, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 614.542095967 SAT)
20. New T.B. clinic. (1949, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.  Rotary Club. (1940, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 10; Rotary Club officers. (1949, May 14). The Straits Times, p. 5; Rotary Club elects new president.  (1939, May 11). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Poon, W. O. (1968) Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3), 226. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
23. Poon, W. O. (1968) Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3), 226. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
24. Chen, C. N., & Lau, E. (1997, May). Chen Su Lan: Preaching through his practice. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from Trinity Annual Conference website: http://www.trac-mcs.org.sg/images/pdf/boardofministry/Dr%20Chen%20Su%20Lan.pdf; Goh, R. (2007). Singapore's 'Two YMCAs': Christianity, colonialism, and ethnic fault lines. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 18(2), 29. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Poon, W.O. (1968). Citations. Singapore Medical Journal, 9(3), 225. (Call no.: RSING 610.5 SMJ)
25. Goh, R. (2007). Singapore's 'Two YMCAs': Christianity, colonialism, and ethnic fault lines. Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 18(2), 40. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
26. Lee, V. (2005, Nov/Dec). Chen Su Lan Professorship: In honour of Nus centennial man. Knowledge Enterprise Online, 5(5). Retrieved June 5, 2016, from National University of Singapore website: http://cbme.nus.edu.sg/files/KE.pdf; National University of Singapore. (2015, October 2). Centre for Biomedical Ethics: About us. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from National University of Singapore website: http://cbme.nus.edu.sg/abtus/about-us.shtml
27. Award for selfless mum. (2007, April 28). The Straits Times, p. 58. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Chen, S. L. (1969). Remember pompong and Oxley Rise. Singapore: Chen Su Lan Trust. (Call no.: RCLOS 940.5481 CHE)
29. Death. (1972, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Mrs Chen dies. (1977, February 3). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 5 June 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Social reformers--Singapore--Biography
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Chen, Su Lan, 1885-1972