Among contemporary Chinese stateswomen Wu Yi undoubtedly casts the most popular spotlight.
Wu Yi would not be so well known to the public if she had not shown her extraordinary mettle after accepting two prominent posts during critical times and rigorous conditions.
During the Sino-US negotiations on intellectual property rights Wu first came into the limelight. At that time, Wu had just transferred from the post of vice mayor of Beijing to the foreign trade ministry as deputy minister, holding that post for less than four months. Two days before the negotiations, the head of the Chinese delegation suddenly fell ill and Wu took charge.
She conducted herself admirably. Since that time, Wu's presence has been unavoidable at negotiation tables where China's efforts to expand exports are discussed, or talks on the Sino-US trade deficit and intellectual property rights issues, and debates on China's entry to WTO, as well as other myriad and complex disputes. Wu's negotiation style has impressed the world with her tenacity, candor, self-confidence and tough image. "America is a country of no great shakes," Wu told her counterparts.
The German-based newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung called Wu Yi China's "Iron Lady" of "uncompromising".
The former US Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans depicted Wu as: She has a ready smile, but her smile is an indication of her strong nerves and engineer's mindset.
Wu goes by the name of "Iron Lady", but she prefers to call herself a "little woman," saying that she is "a little woman who accepted command under critical conditions." In 2003, with sudden outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), Wu, as a newly elected vice premier, was asked to lead the campaign against outbreak. Later Wu described the situation as:
"In fact, I was not very familiar to the health fields. Premier Wen Jiabao had a talk with me and asked me lead the anti-SARS campaign, but I really lacked confidence about this issue. It was so challenging for me, an old lady in her 60s, to work in such an unfamiliar sector. I felt so much pressure at that time. However, Jiabao told me, ‘No problem, first you can help me work on cooperative medical care in rural areas.' I got on the bandwagon and organized everything necessary in order to contain SARS epidemic."
After Wu held a concurrent post as health minister, she took a range of decisive actions and modified the government's former passive handling of the SARS crisis. She reshaped the nation's image and eventually won a decisive victory in the fight against SARS, increasing her good reputation.
When the curtain fell, Wu again impressed the world with her unique style and a stunning announcement, just as she did during her debut into a senior leadership position.
The topic of promotion or retirement is a traditionally a sensitive issue for China's politicians, especially for those at senior levels. Wu Yi broke this unspoken rule.
On November 23, 2007, Wu made a speech at an evening banquet held by the Sino-US Chamber of Commerce, "We all know that China's leadership will be reshuffled in March next year. By that time, I will have retired and I would like to take this opportunity to bid farewell to you."
"I will be fully retired by then. I make it clear in my report to the Central Committee that I am no longer able to take on any positions, whether official, semi-official or affiliated with mass organizations. I hope you will completely forget about me."
One month later, Wu once again publicly announced that she would fully retreat at the members' conference of the China International Chamber of Commerce.
Her transcendent spirit and reclusive sentiment in face of retreat from power is just the same as her favorite poem: Ding Feng Bo (Calming down the turmoil) of Su Shi (1037-1101), which reads:
Listening to the sound of the wind and rain piercing through the forest,
Might as well whistle chant and have a slow walk.
Leaning on a bamboo cane and wearing straw sandals must be more convenient than riding a horse; I feel light all over.
Trials and hardships are nothing terrible!
I am wrapping myself in a rain cape made of straw or palm bark.
Let the misty rain down on me.
Nice and cool spring breeze blows, I awake feeling tipsy.
Feeling a bit cold.
But the fine setting sun solicitously greets me over the hilltop.
Turning my head to the bleak place where I passed just now,
I prefer to go away.
It is fine that there is neither hardship nor applause.
(China.org.cn by Wang Zhiyong, Zhou Jing, Yang Xi and Zhang Tingting, March 8, 2008)