The making of a Chinese head of the WHO: a study of the media discourse on Margaret Chan's contest for the WHO director-generalship and its implications for the collective memory of SARS

Int J Health Serv. 2009;39(3):587-614. doi: 10.2190/HS.39.3.i.


In 2003, Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, former Director of Health of the Hong Kong government, was criticized for her unsatisfactory performance in handling the SARS outbreak. But three years later, she was celebrated for her success in the contest for the WHO director-generalship. How was she transformed from an incompetent official into an "honor winner" for China and Hong Kong? In what context was this made possible? How was the collective memory about Chan recalled and reconstructed? This article tackles these questions by reviewing relevant reportage and commentary in major local (Hong Kong), national (China), and international media. It maps the political context of the media discourse and explores the construction of a collective past to foster national cohesion in postcolonial Hong Kong.

MeSH terms

  • China / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Humans
  • Mass Media*
  • Memory
  • Professional Role
  • Public Opinion*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • World Health Organization / organization & administration*