Born in Tamsui, Taiwan, Dr. Tsungming Tu (1893-1986) had a tremendous thirst for knowledge since childhood, and was particularly interested in the sciences. To pursuing his dream to being a scientist, he devoted full efforts to his studies, advancing from the basic Japanese-style public schools, to Taiwan’s foremost medical school (predecessor of National Taiwan University College of Medicine), and eventually to the medical program at Kyoto Imperial University in Japan where he became the first Taiwanese person to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree. Furthermore, he became the first and only Taiwanese professor at the Taipei Imperial University Medical School. In that era of colonial rule when most Taiwanese faced discrimination in education, Dr. Tu's academic achievement greatly boosted the dignity and confidence of the Taiwanese people.
Dr. Tu also displayed a keen ability for choosing competitive research topics. At the pharmacology laboratory of Taipei Imperial University, he selected three topics that were unique to Taiwan and possessed great potential: opium, Chinese herb medicine and snake venom. In particular, his research on snake venom and opium were among the proudest accomplishments in Taiwan’s medical history.
Dr. Tu’s greatest academic contribution was his research on opium addiction. He not only developed a gradual withdrawal therapy with mild side effects and completed the world’s only health survey of addicted pregnant women and newborns, but most importantly developed a urine test to confirm opium consumption. At the same time, he established the world’s first hospital to treat opium addiction, and set up training courses for the hospital’s nurses and midwives. The opium urine test invented by Dr. Tu is considered the forerunner of modern tests for banned drugs, its concepts and principles are still widely used around the world today.
Moreover, Dr. Tu saved countless lives by discovering ways to abstract analgesic ingredients from snake venom and creating a powerful medicine from papaya leaves to treat dysentery. Dr. Tu was also extremely accomplished in pharmacology and toxicology, publishing hundreds of papers on the topic of Taiwan’s poisonous snake alone, and becoming one of the world’s few experts on poisonous snakes. Unfortunately, his work on Chinese medicine was not fully promoted due to limitation in his contemporary political environment.
Dr. Tsungming Tu's academic achievements gave Taiwan the ability to train its own doctors and professionals. Dr. Tu was not only an outstanding academic researcher, but also a medical educator with humanitarian ideals. He devoted his life to cultivating young talent where no one would be behind. After Taiwan recovered from Japan’s occupation, Dr. Tu became the first dean of the National Taiwan University College of Medicine. Thereafter, he worked with former Kaohsiung mayor Frank C. Chen to establish the Kaohsiung Medical College (predecessor of Kaohsiung Medical University), the first private institution of its kind and the second medical college in Taiwan. During this period, Dr. Tu also fulfilled another lifelong dream to establish the first medical facility for Taiwan’s indigenous people, training indigenous doctors and bringing medical care to every village in Taiwan. This work also compelled the Taiwan government to begin providing medical healthcare to indigenous people all around the island.
In summary, Dr. Tsungming Tu is considered the foremost legend in Taiwan’s medical history. He has lived through three different eras in Taiwan under the Ching Dynasty, Japanese colonial rule, and the Nationalist government, and his contribution span across basic medical research, medical education as well as medical therapy policy.