Wu Tingfang

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Ng Choy (Wu Tingfang)

Wu Tingfang2.jpg
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
Preceded byLou Tseng-Tsiang
Succeeded byWang Daxie
Premier of State Council of the Republic of China
In office
23 May 1917 – 28 May 1917
PresidentLi Yuanhong
Feng Guozhang
Preceded byDuan Qirui
Succeeded byLi Jingxi
Ambassador of Qing Empire to the United States
In office
8 March 1908 – 12 August 1909
MonarchGuangxu Emperor
Xuantong Emperor
Preceded byZhou Ziqi
Succeeded byZhang Yintang
In office
23 November 1896 – 12 July 1902
MonarchGuangxu Emperor
Preceded byYang Yu
Succeeded byLiang Cheng
Chinese Unofficial Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong
In office
Appointed bySir John Pope Hennessy
Personal details
Born30 July 1842
Malacca, Straits Settlements
Died23 June 1922(1922-06-23) (aged 79)
Canton, Kwangtung, Republic of China
Political partyRepublican Party
Progressive Party
ChildrenWu Chaoshu
Alma materSt. Paul's College
University College London
Lincoln's Inn
Wu Tingfang
Ng Choy

Wu Tingfang (Chinese: 伍廷芳, also known as Ng Choy or Ng Achoy[1] (Chinese: 伍才; pinyin: Wǔ Cái); 30 July 1842 – 23 June 1922) was a Chinese diplomat and politician who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and briefly as Acting Premier during the early years of the Republic of China.

Education and career in Hong Kong[edit]

Wu was born in the Straits Settlement, now modern day Malacca in 1842 and was sent to China in 1846 to be schooled,[2] he studied at the Anglican St. Paul's College, in Hong Kong where he learned to read and write in English. After serving as an interpreter in the Magistrate's Court from 1861 to 1874,[3] marrying Ho Miu-ling (sister of Sir Kai Ho) in 1864.

He studied law in the United Kingdom at University College London and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn (1876). Wu became the first ethnic Chinese barrister in history. After being called to the bar in England, he returned to Hong Kong in 1877 to practise law, he was admitted as a barrister in Hong Kong in a ceremony that May before Chief Justice John Smale who observed:

I am glad to see a Chinaman running in the race the most highly intellectual in the world. I am glad to see that a Chinaman ... has become a member of the English Bar. In England every office becomes open to talent without favour or affection. A distinguished American statesman [J P Benjamin QC] has become, and now is an ornament of the English bar, and all the Bar will gladly hail the time when a Chinaman shall distinguish himself as much as the eminent counsel to whom I refer. I have seen stranger things happen.[4]:262

In 1880, Wu became the first ethnic Chinese Unofficial member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong[4]:297 and was appointed acting Police Magistrate.[4]:303

Service under the Qing Dynasty[edit]

He served under the Qing dynasty as Minister to the United States, Spain, and Peru from 1896 to 1902 and from 1907 to 1909, having started out as legal adviser and interpreter to powerful diplomat and viceroy Li Hongzhang;[4]:491 as the minister, he lectured widely about Chinese culture and history, in part working to counter discrimination against Chinese emigrants by increasing foreign appreciation of their background. [5] To further this end, he wrote America, Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat in English in 1914.[6]

Wu is mentioned several times in the diaries of Sir Ernest Satow who was British Envoy in China, 1900–06. For example, on 21 November 1903: "Wu Tingfang came in the afternoon, and stopped talking for an hour and a half about his commercial code and connected subjects, his idea is to draft also a new criminal code, and put both into force at the outset in the open ports."[7]

Wu had an opportunity to implement his ideas about Chinese law reform between 1903-1906, when he (together with Shen Jiaben) were put in charge of reforming the Qing imperial code, his efforts included modernising the criminal code and abolish inhumane methods of capital punishment such as death by a thousand cuts, decapitation and posthumous execution, and use of torture in interrogations. He also reformed the governmental structure for the administration of justice, ending the traditional combined approach. Sun Yat-sen praised Wu's contributions, saying that he began a "new epoch" for Chinese criminal law.[8]

Service post Xinhai Revolution[edit]

He supported the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and negotiated on the revolutionaries' behalf in Shanghai, he served briefly in early 1912 as Minister of Justice for the Nanjing Provisional Government, where he argued strongly for an independent judiciary, based on his experience studying law and travelling overseas.[9] After this brief posting, Wu became Minister of Foreign Affairs for the ROC, he served briefly in 1917 as Acting Premier of the Republic of China.

He joined Sun Yat-sen's Constitutional Protection Movement and became a member of its governing committee, he advised Sun against becoming the "extraordinary president" but stuck with Sun after the election. He then served as Sun's foreign minister and as acting president when Sun was absent, he died shortly after Chen Jiongming rebelled against Sun in 1922.

Wu's tomb was moved to Yuexiu Hill in Guangzhou in 1988, where it forms an ensemble with the tomb of his son Wu Chaoshu and the memorial tablet bearing an inscription by Sun Yat-sen dedicated to Wu Tingfang.



  1. ^ "Wu Ting Fang" (PDF). Lincoln's Inn. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. ^ "Wu Ting-fang 伍廷芳". TheChinaStory.org. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  3. ^ [1]. Chinese Unofficial Members of the Legislative and Executive Councils in Hong Kong up to 1941, T C Cheng
  4. ^ a b c d Norton-Kyshe, James William (1898). History of the Laws and Courts of Hong Kong. II. London: T Fisher Unwin.
  5. ^ Wong, K. Scott. (1995) Chinatown: conflicting images, contested terrain. MELUS 20(1):3–15.
  6. ^ Wu Tingfang, America, Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat Stokes (1914); Bastian Books (2008) ISBN 0-554-32616-7
  7. ^ Ian Ruxton, ed. The Diaries of Sir Ernest Satow, British Envoy in Peking (1900–06), Lulu Press Inc., April 2006 ISBN 978-1-4116-8804-9 (Volume One, 1900–03, p. 389)
  8. ^ https://knews.cc/zh-tw/history/vr422.html[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Xu Xiaoqun. (1997) The fate of judicial independence in Republican China, 1912–37. The China Quarterly 149:1–28.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pomerantz-Zhang, Linda. (1992) Wu Tingfang (1842–1922): reform and modernisation in modern Chinese history. ISBN 962-209-287-X.

External links[edit]

Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Preceded by
Hugh Bold Gibb
Unofficial Member
Succeeded by
Frederick Stewart
as unofficial
New office Senior Chinese Unofficial Member
Title next held by
Wong Shing
Political offices
Preceded by
Duan Qirui
Premier of the Republic of China
23–25 May 1917
Succeeded by
Li Jingxi