Chen Su Lan

Chen Su Lan
Dr Chen Su Lan
Born 1885 (1885)
Fuzhou, China
Died 2 May 1972 (1972-05-03) (aged 87)
Occupation Physician
Known for Philanthropy
Religion Methodist

Dr Chen Su Lan (1885 - 5 May 1972) was one of Singapore's first local medical graduates. He was also an anti-opium fighter, philanthropist and social reformer. He served in a number of important committees including the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Management Committee, the Central Midwives Board and the Council of King Edward VII College of Medicine. After the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, he joined the Advisory Council where he spoke out against social ills caused by the war. He founded the Chinese Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in 1945 and formed the Chen Su Lan Trust in 1947.


Early life

Born in Fuzhou, China, Chen was a third-generation Methodist, brought up by his deeply devout mother who was widowed when he was young. He enrolled at Anglo-Chinese College in Fuzhou when he was 15. At a revival meeting led by visiting Bishop Bradford, he pledged to become a preacher one day.

Not long after, in 1905, he left for Singapore, where he enrolled to become one of the first students at the newly opened Straits Federated Malay States Government Medical School (later renamed King Edward VII Medical School, then King Edward VII College of Medicine). He obtained a Licentiate in Medicine in 1910, as part of the first batch of seven graduates. In addition, he also topped that class.

After graduation, he was not only busy with his own practice but he served on a number of important committees, including the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Management Committee, the Central Midwives Board and the Council of King Edward VII College of Medicine. He also founded the Alumni Association of the Medical College was elected president of the Malayan branch of the British Medical Association.

Anti-Opium Fight

Chen was deeply concerned with the social and health conditions in Singapore. He recognized that opium addiction was a grim social problem, not helped by the fact that the colonial government monopolized the sale of the drug as means to regulate its use. At the risk of being labeled disloyal to the British, Chen mounted a campaign against opium addiction. He was the president of the Singapore Anti-Opium Society and the director of the Anti-Opium Clinic which he founded in 1933. However, in 1937, the outbreak of war in China caused donations to be diverted to the China Relief Fund and thus the clinic had to close down.

Outbreak of the Pacific War

When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, the Japanese army made steady progress in its conquest of the Malayan peninsula. Chen, who felt that Singapore would fall, decided to flee from the island. On 13 February 1942, he boarded one of the last ships leaving Singapore but unfortunately, the ship was attacked, bombed and set on fire. The passengers abandoned ship and Chen found himself adrift in the cold sea, clinging on to a raft with a few other survivors. During those hours in the water, he re-evaluated his life and realized he had not kept to his childhood commitment to be a preacher. He decided to live fully for God and not himself.

Upon landing on short at a mangrove forest, Chen returned home only to be detained by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police). An informer had told the Japanese that Chen and other leaders of the Methodist Church were conspiring against the Japanese government. Although his home was searched, no evidence was found which would incriminate him, and he was released.

After the Japanese Occupation

After the war, the British Military Administration invited Chen to join the Advisory Council. Chen took the opportunity to speak out boldly against the numerous social problems that had arisen because of the war. To help solve these problems, in 1945, he founded the Chinese Young Men's Christian Association (now called the Metropolitan YMCA) to help provide demoralized youths with opportunities to rehabilitate themselves.

Chen Su Lan Trust

Turning to his personal interest and commitment, he founded the Chen Su Lan Trust in 1947. The Trust disbursed funds and land to Christian organizations like Scripture Union, and for the founding in 1968 of the Methodist Children's Home which was named after him.

Writing About His Experiences

In 1969, Chen published a book entitled Pompong and Oxley Rise, which recounted his childhood days and his experiences during the Japanese Occupation. He had been planning to do this since the war as a way to express his gratitude to God. Though he had not fulfilled his commitment to be a preacher in the literal sense, his whole life had been dedicated to serve God through serving the needs of others.


  • "Dr Chen Su Lan". Singapore Infopedia. 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  • The Secretary of the Trustess of the Methodist Church in Singapore (2005). Strangely Warmed: Methodists--Our Ways, Our Lives and Our Truths. Singapore: Armour Publishing. 
  • Cheah, J. S.; Ho, T. M. & Ng, B. Y. (1935). The first graduates in 1910. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), 19C-24C.. 
  • Chen, S. L. (2005). The opium problem in British Malaya [Microfilm: NL 7461].. Singapore: Singapore Anti-Opium Society.. 
  • Chen, S. L. (1969). Remember Pompong and Oxley Rise. Singapore: Chen Su Lan Trust.. 
  • Kratoska, P. H. (2002). Southeast Asian minorities in the wartime Japanese empire.. London; New York, N.Y.: RoutledgeCurzon. 
  • Death [Obituary] [Microfilm: NL 7053]. (1972, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 32.
  • "New anti-opium clinic" [Microfilm: NL 1497]. (1935, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 11.

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