The younger son of Chen Hui Mei and Dang Li Ming, Chen was named Nen Ya at birth. His mother, a nurse trained by Methodist missionaries in Fuzhou, China, was widowed when Chen was still a child. She had to flee with her two sons to the countryside when a foreign gunboat approached the port city of Fuzhou. These experiences shaped Chen’s future life.
Schooled in the Chinese classics, Chen sat for the Xiu Cai examinations when he was 16, after which he attended the Anglo-Chinese College headed by John Gowdy, a Methodist missionary. Upon graduation in 1905, he studied medicine in Singapore and was among the first medical graduates there.
Chen was active in the Fuzhou Methodist Church and was a delegate to the Quadrennial Conference in the United States in 1928. He became the first president of the Alumni Association of King Edward VII College of Medicine in 1923 and was later a council member of the college.
Ignoring the threat of deportation, Chen fought against the government’s monopolistic sale of opium and established the Anti-opium Clinic, running it almost single-handedly. About 7,000 addicts were rehabilitated before the clinic was closed at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.
Fleeing from the Japanese, Chen was shipwrecked on 14 Feb 1942 and captured by the Kempetai. He described his experiences in his book Remember Pompong and Oxley Rise. His war experience led him to form the Chen Su Lan Trust. It gave land to the Scripture Union and both property and funds to the Wesley Methodist Church for the founding of the Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home.
During the British military administration, Chen was appointed to the advisory council but was discontented with “mere speechmaking” on social issues. He proceeded to found the Chinese Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in his retirement. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Malaya; the theme of his convocation address was the role of Christianity in the emancipation of women. Chen Su Lan was a person who constantly bridged his faith to the everyday world.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.