Wu Yi Biography

Vice-Premier of the State Council and Minister of Public Health for China

Born in November of 1938, in Wuhan, in the Hubei Province, China. Education: Attended Beijing National Defense Department of the Northwest Polytechnic Institute; Petroleum Institute, petroleum engineering degree, 1962.

Addresses: Office —Ministry of Health, No. 1 Xizhimen Nanlu, Beijing 100044; phone: (86-10) 6879-2114. Office —State Council, No. 2 Fuyoujie, Zhongnanhai, Beijing, 100017.


Technician, staff member of political department, Lanzhou Oil Refinery, 1962-65; technician, Production and Technology Department of the Ministry of Petroleum Industry, 1965-67; technician, deputy chief, and chief of technology section, deputy chief engineer, and deputy director, Beijing Dongfanghong Refinery, 1967-83; deputy general manager, Party secretary, Yanshan Petrochemical Corporation, 1983-88; vice-mayor of Beijing, 1988-91; vice-minister of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade, deputy secretary of Leading Party Members' Group, 1991-93; named vice-minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, 1991; named minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, 1993; elected president of the China Association of Foreign-Funded Enterprises; named secretary of Leading Party Members' Group, 1993-98; alternate member of Political Bureau of CCP Central Committee, 1997-98; alternate member of Political Bureau of CCP Central Committee, State Councilor,

Wu Yi
member of Leading Party Members' Group of State Council, 1998-2002; named vice-premier of the State Council and minister of Public Health, 2003.

Awards: Ranked second most powerful woman in the world, Forbes ; one of the top 50 most influential people in intellectual property, Managing Intellectual Property, 2004.


Wu Yi (pronounced Woo Yee), a longtime public servant in China, has earned the reputation as China's Iron Lady. The name recalls the moniker given to Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was known for her political influence and forceful nature. Wu has held successively higher positions within China's communist party. As minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation she negotiated with the United States on such topics as copyright protection, trade, and investment agreements. Her tough yet flexible stance in negotiations has earned her respect inside and outside China.

In 1998, Madame Wu, as she is often called, became the most powerful woman in government when she was promoted to the position of state councilor. There are only five state councilors, which is a position that ranks just below that of vice premier—the highest position in government. In this role, she worked to promote China and gain membership into the World Trade Organization, a global trade agreement organization established in 1995. While she made great inroads into international negotiations, Wu also worked diligently to promote development within China, especially within the interior. Her goals were to grow the high tech industry while also attracting international investments. On the philanthropic front, Wu worked to develop plans that would improve living conditions for women and children in the most impoverished areas of China. In 2003, Wu was named health minister, a position for which she was well prepared. Her candidness in the face of the international health crisis created by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) earned her the respect of health officials worldwide.

Wu was born in November of 1938, in Wuhan, in the Hubei Province of China. Her family was well educated and Wu studied at National Defense Department of the Northwest Polytechnic Institute and the Oil Refinery Department of the Beijing Petroleum Institute. She graduated in 1962 with an engineering degree. Her first job out of college was working for the Lanzhou Oil Refinery in the Gansu Province. Soon afterward she landed a position in the technology department of the Ministry of Petroleum Industry.

In 1967, she went to work for the Beijing Dongfanghong Refinery. She worked for the refinery for 16 years, rising in position during her tenure from technician to deputy director. In 1983, she left the Beijing Dongfanghong Refinery to become deputy general manager and Party secretary of the Yanshan Petrochemical Corporation. During this time she began to rise in the ranks of the Communist Party and in 1988 she was elected vice-mayor of Beijing. She held that position for three years. During her tenure as vice-mayor, Wu was responsible for keeping electrical-plant workers from striking in response to student deaths in Tiananmen Square.

In 1991, she claimed a position in the Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. She held the seat of vice-minister for two years before stepping up to the minister role. During that time she was also elected president of the China Association of Foreign-Funded Enterprises. From 1997 to 2002, she also served as an alternate or full member of China's Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee—the ruling elite of China.

Wu related in a China Online article that growing up she had always wanted to be a businesswoman, My biggest wish was to become a great entrepreneur . In an enterprise, you can develop your own thinking. A short, compact woman who always dresses well, Wu is easy to spot among the men who make up the majority of high-level positions. One characteristic that stands out prominently is her graying hair—most of the men color their hair black to cover the gray. Wu is an anomaly in many respects. She is the only woman to hold such a high ranking and not be married to another party official. Wu's busy career and dedication to China's economic future left her with little time to form a family. She explained to China Online, I spent 20 years in the backwoods. When I got out, I was already too old. Plus work was hectic. So I gave up.

In April of 2003, Wu added another title to her name, that of Health Minister. During the winter months of 2003, a deadly virus was spreading through Asia and the world. Known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the World Health Organization indicated that China was an area that was highly affected. Unfortunately, the acting health minister refused to acknowledge that China was suffering from the outbreak. Wu, who was also holding the position of Vice Premier, replaced him. She approached the situation in her usually forthright and honest manner. She was open and truthful about the virus and its spread among the Chinese population. Many people within China and internationally agreed that she was the best person for the job. Former U.S. trade representative Charlene Barshefsky explained to John Pomfret of the Washington Post, If one was looking for a minister to help China regain international trust, she would be the person. Her directness undercuts the notion that there's guile or any attempt to deceive. Also, she means business.

Her actions and attitude earned her high esteem among health professionals worldwide and helped stem the spread of the potentially fatal virus. Afterward, Wu called on the Chinese government to help establish a national disease prevention and control network to deal with health crises such as SARS. The following year, Wu declared that the health ministry would begin focusing on HIV and AIDS—diseases affecting more than 800,000 people throughout the country. She initiated programs to educate people on the causes as well as ways to prevent the spread of the disease. She also launched educational programs to end discrimination and fear of HIV/AIDS sufferers by giving people factual information on how the disease cannot be spread.

In addition to her commitment to providing and improving healthcare throughout the nation, Wu continues to form trade alliances and agreements with nations worldwide. In 2004, she worked to make formal agreements with countries such as Belgium, Barbados, Finland, and Uzbekistan. Because of her work and influence, Wu has been ranked as an influential and powerful person. In July of 2004, she was named to the list of the top 50 most influential people in the area of intellectual property by Managing Intellectual Property. The following month Forbes magazine ranked her as the second most powerful woman in the world, on a list that included United States national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and U.S. senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. From all appearances she will continue to be a positive force working in China.



Agence France Presse, April 26, 2003.

Calgary Herald, August 24, 2004, p. A3.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 26, 2004.

Economic Times, September 3, 2004.

Independent (London, England), March 1, 1998, p. 17.

Time, April 26, 2004, p. 56.

Washington Post, May 6, 2003, p. A17.

Xinhua General News Service, November 15, 2002.


"Wu Yi among Top 50 most influential figures in IP," China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/21/content_350363.htm (November 6, 2004).

"Wu Yi: State Councilor, State Council," China Online, http://www.chinaonline.com/refer/biographies/secure/BB-REV-WuYi3.asp (November 6, 2004).

—Eve M. B. Hermann

Also read article about Wu Yi from Wikipedia

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