Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan, JP
Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa

A citation translated by Dr. KUNG Chi Keung

Citizens: One Can’t Go a Day without This ‘Kwan’#

At 4:30 p.m. on September 24, 2022, during the press conference held by the Centre for Health Protection of the Hong Kong Department of Health, Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan spoke in a calm, natural tone, neither fast nor slow, as she stated, “I hope this will be our last one.” She then conveyed her well wishes to the citizens of Hong Kong.

During the days when the COVID-19 pandemic was rampant, Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan hosted the daily 4:30 p.m. press conference to provide the public with the latest updates on the pandemic. In citizens’ minds, this became a symbol both of the times and of a comforting presence. Seeing Dr. CHUANG and hearing her voice brought reassurance to the people. Thus hearing her announcement on September 24 that the day’s briefings would mark the final chapter, the ultimate conclusion, citizens felt both a sense of joy and a lingering reluctance to let go. They asked, “When will ‘Kwan’ come back again?” This ‘Kwan’ naturally refers to Dr. CHUANG. Now that “the pandemic” had been defeated, there would seemingly be no reason for her to continue hosting the 4:30 p.m. press conferences. However, the name CHUANG Shuk-kwan had already become firmly etched in the minds of the people, and an integral part of the city itself. How did Dr. CHUANG become the most popular and beloved public figure during those difficult times?

Since the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020, Dr. CHUANG remained steadfast and was consistently present to host the 4:30 p.m. press conferences, except for the few occasions when they were canceled.For over two years, regardless of the weather conditions, she was always dedicated and reliable. When confronted with reporters’ challenging and sometimes persistent questions, Dr. CHUANG remained unperturbed, maintaining a calm and composed demeanor. She responded with grace, providing meticulous and patient answers to their inquiries. A statistical analysis conducted at the time found that Dr. CHUANG had hosted the press conference for 72 days in a row, meaning that she worked without a break for over two months. Her respect for her job, her enthusiasm in doing her work, and her professionalism were truly unparalleled, and demonstrated how indispensable she was to the citizens, who could not imagine a day without her. Her presence enabled the public to stay informed about the actual situation and progress of the pandemic, serving as a crucial link in the fight against COVID-19. Dr. CHUANG upheld the principles of openness and transparency, speaking honestly and directly. Through this platform, she not only addressed the concerns and fears of the citizens but also garnered their affection.

The Depth of Love for Her Husband Resides within Unspoken Words

Unfortunately, in early 2020, Dr. CHUANG’s husband, who was also a medical doctor, fell gravely ill and required hospitalization. She visited him at the hospital and took care of their family during this difficult time; yet despite everything, she never forgot the daily 4:30 p.m. briefings, which she conducted calmly and unhurriedly every time. She continued to fulfill her duties as usual until December 5, 2020, when, an hour before the scheduled conference, she unexpectedly requested leave. It was subsequently revealed that her husband’s condition had become critical. Two days later, she attended the conference dressed in black. Yet she exhibited exceptional professionalism and a strong sense of responsibility, while silently bearing the pain of losing her husband. The manner in which she conducted herself, prioritizing public interests over personal ones and disregarding her own pain, earned her the public’s deepest respect, with everyone wishing “Shuk-kwan well and safe.”

Same Name, Same Profession as Her Trailblazer

In 1904, Cholera broke out in Guangzhou. In terms of both prevention and medical treatment, there was no effective means to combat the widespread epidemic. In that year, a woman renowned as “China’s first female medical doctor” who had extensively studied preventive medicine, accurately identified that the epidemic’s spread resulted from the contamination of river and well water by the effluvia of infected people. She proposed that the authorities employ boats to transport fresh water from Simen, a suburb of Guangzhou, for public consumption, and disseminate information to the families of the patients, stressing the significance of incinerating vomit and diarrhea rather than disposing of them haphazardly. She also recommended the prohibition of selling spoiled fruits and melons. The authorities heeded her advice and implemented the measures. Weeks later, the epidemic was successfully brought under control, making it a classic case in the annals of China’s medical history.

In 1926, during the rampant outbreak of Cholera in Shanghai, this same female doctor, who was born in Guangzhou and was also renowned as the “Heroine of Xinhai” and the founder of the Red Cross Society of China, once again bravely fought on the front lines against the epidemic. Interestingly, she shared the same surname and first name as Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan from Hong Kong, and equally enjoyed great popularity among the citizens. In Putonghua pronunciation, she is known as ZHANG Zhujun. As the story goes, in 1924, while she was aboard a ship to Hong Kong, she encountered a group of pirates. Once her identity was revealed, the pirates returned her confiscated items, and departed after kowtowing to her. On another occasion, while she was being robbed on a road, the robbers, upon learning her name, also retreated with a bow.

Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan from Hong Kong is similarly esteemed by the public. On International Women’s Day (March 8) of 2021, a day that “commemorates the women’s rights movement,” netizens launched the “Thanking CHUANG Shuk-kwan” campaign to applaud her tremendous efforts in leading the Health Department in combating the pandemic, regardless of the challenges. ZHANG Zhujun of Xinhai was also an advocate and activist for women’s rights.

History so often repeats itself. Both women, sharing the same name but belonging to two different eras, became heroines in the fight against epidemics.

Fighting the Pandemic: Stay Fully Vigilant, and NeverLet Your Guard Down

On April 20, 2020, when Hong Kong reported zero confirmed cases, the COVID-19 press conference was suspended. So, the people asked, “Where is Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan?”

On that day, she had returned to her office to accept a gift of over 12,000 tulips from the Netherlands ConsulateGeneral in Hong Kong on behalf of the public hospitals, the Hospital Authority, and the Centre for Health Protection. Wisers Information Limited later conducted an analysis of online messaging from January to May of that year, which encompassed 840,000 posts, 24.45 million comments, and 250 million instances of netizen communication. After filtering out the negative messages, Dr. CHUANG emerged as the most popular government official. In response, she commended the people of Hong Kong for their exceptional self-discipline during the pandemic, highlighting their unwavering adherence to preventive guidelines without letting their guard down, which was truly admirable.

Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan has dedicated over 20 years of service to the Department of Health. In the early years after the establishment of the Centre for Health Protection in 2004, she held successive positions as the Principal Medical and Health Officer, and the Principal Officer of Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch (SEB). In 2007, she was promoted to the position of Consultant Doctor. Her responsibilities included informing the public about outbreaks of infectious diseases in Hong Kong and Mainland China. She has dealt with infectious diseases such as Streptococcus suis in Sichuan in 2005, the Enterovirus-71 (EV-71) in 2008, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS) outbreak in 2013, and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.

Dr. CHUANG has achieved remarkable results in the field of public health.

Vice-President Dr. HU, in recognition of Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan’s invaluable contributions to the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong and her esteemed reputation among the citizens, Shue Yan University is honored to bestow upon Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa. The Shue Yan community is proud to be associated with her remarkable achievements.

*The word “Kwan” is the Cantonese pronunciation of the character「君」(pronounced jun in Putonghua), which refers to a person of honor, or is used as a respectable address to a person. This same character is part of Dr. CHUANG Shuk-kwan’s name. Thus this saying is a play on words.


Source: Spring 2024 Issue