In 1910, when a contagious pneumonic plague was ravaging northeastern China, a physician there concluded that the disease traveled through the air. So he adapted something he had seen in England. He began instructing doctors, nurses, patients and members of the public to wear gauze masks.
That pioneering of masks by Dr. Wu Lien-teh, a Cambridge-educated modernizer of Chinese medicine, is credited with saving the lives of those around him. A French physician working with Wu, however, rejected putting on a mask. He perished within days.
More than a century later, now that the new coronavirus has spread across the United States and claimed more than 16,000 lives, some scholars and health system experts are shaking their heads that lessons from other coun