This article is excerpted from Biographies of Prominent Chinese, published in Shanghai in c.1925.
His Excellency Tong Shao-yi, former Premier, was born in Kwangtung Province, in 1861. He was one of the first group of Chinese students sent to the United States by the Chinese Government to be educated there. However, he returned to China before his graduation, by order of the Government,—which was sceptical about the real usefulness of Western education. During his stay in America, he attended Columbia University, New York.
Mr. Tong was appointed assistant in charge of the Korean Maritime Customs, in 1882, one year after his return from America. Later, he attracted the attention of His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai, who was then Imperial Resident in Korea, and was appointed his secretary. After the Sino-Japanese War, Mr. Tong was Consul-General in Korea. At the same time, he was employed on the staff of the Northern Railway Administration, as Managing Director. In the winter of 1900, Mr. Tong was with His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai, in Shantung. It was the year of the Boxer uprising, and Mr. Tong co-operated with his chief in the suppression of the disturbances. In February 1902, he was appointed Customs Taotai of Tientsin; and in September 1904, was appointed Special Commissioner to Tibet. He visited India, as China’s envoy, to negotiate the Tibet Convention, which was subsequently completed at Peking, in April of 1906.
In Februray 1906, Mr. Tong was appointed Vice-President of the Board of Foreign Affairs. Shortly afterward, he was made Director-General of all railways in China. In May of the same year, he was appointed Comptroller-General of the Revenue Council, in Peking. In November, he was promoted to Senior Vice-President of the Board of Communications. He continued to serve as Vice-President of the Board of Foreign Affairs.
In April 1907, Mr. Tong was appointed First Governor of Fengtien, upon the organisation of the government of Manchuria, when His Excellency Hsu Shih-chang was Viceroy of Manchuria. In July 1908, he was sent as a special envoy to America to thank the United States Government for waiving part of the Boxer Indemnity; and at this time resigned the governorship of Fengtien.
In August 1910, Mr. Tong was expectant Vice-President of the Board of Communications, and soon afterward was requested to act for the President, but resigned this office in the following spring.
After the death of His Excellency Chang Pie-hsi, on October 27th, 1911, Mr. Tong was appointed Minister of Communications. In December of the same year, he proceeded to Shanghai as His Excellency Yuan Shih-kai’s delegate, to negotiate, with the revolutionary leaders, for peace. He resigned the position as delegate, on December 27th, 1911.
Mr. Tong was appointed Premier on February 13th, 1912, after the abdication of the Manchu Emperor. On June 27th, he resigned the Premiership, and was appointed High Adviser, to the President, on State Affairs. He denounced the late President Yuan Shih-kai, in 1915, when the latter aspired to be Emperor; and worked against his Imperial plan.
After the death of Yuan Shih-kai, in 1916, Mr. Tong was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs; but only proceeded as far as Tientsin, and the returned to Shanghai, before the assumption of office, on account of opposition in Peking. He supported the Peking Government, for the dissolution of Parliament, in 1917, when it refused to pass the bill urging war with the Central Powers. He was appointed by the Southern Government, in the spring of 1919, to head the Southern peace delegation to the conference for the settlement of China’s internal trouble, which commenced in 1917.
Mr. Tong served as a member of the Military Government at Canton, from 1911 to 1922. On August 5th, 1922, President Li Yuan-hung appointed Mr. Tong Premier, to succeed Dr. W.W. Yen, but he refused to go to Peking, whereupon Dr. C.H. Wang was made Premier. Since President Li Yuan-hung left office, Mr. Tong has been living in Shanghai, as the official representative of the Constitutional Government at Canton.