This article is excerpted from Biographies of Prominent Chinese, published in Shanghai in c.1925.
Dr. Wu Ting-fang was born at Singapore, July 9th, 1842. At the age of four, his parents sent him to China for an education: and, when he was fourteen, he entered St. Paul’s College, Hongkong, for his modern education,–completing the course in 1861. He was employed in various capacities during the following ten years; and established the first modern daily Chinese news-paper, the “Chung Ngoi San Po”.
In 1874, Ng Choy, as he was then known, proceeded to London to study law. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, being thus the first Chinese to become an English Barrister-at-Law. He practised law at Hongkong, and acted as Police Magistrate for one year. He was the first Chinese to preside in a British Court, dispensing justice under the British Crown. He also represented the Chinese in the Legislative Council.
Upon the invitation of Viceroy Li Hung-chang, Dr. Wu joined the Peiyang administration as a member of his secretariat. He assisted in the scheme for the construction of, and became Managing Director of, the Tientsin-Tangku Railway, the first railway in China. He assisted in the organization of the Peiyang Military Academy, the Peiyang University, and the Telegraph Administration; and he rendered valuable service in foreign negotiations, particularly in the treaty made between Japan and China after the war of 1894-1895.
In 1897, Dr. Wu was chosen to represent China as Minster to the United States, Spain, and Peru. He displayed remarkable diplomatic ability, particularly during the Boxer crisis, when, with Mr. John Hay, he succeeded in warding off the menace of the partition of China. He likewise enjoyed unusual popularity. In 1899, he negotiated a treaty with Mexico.
In 1902, he was appointed to the post of Commissioner for the Revision of Treaties; and he negotiated several treaties with the Powers. He also held, at various times, the posts of: Vice-Minister of Commerce, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vice-Minister of Justice, and Commissioner of Law Revision. He drafted a Criminal Code and Commercial Code, which have become the basic law of China.
In 1908, Dr. Wu was re-appointed Minister to the United States, Mexico, Cuba and Peru. He returned to China at the end of three years, leaving behind him the enviable reputation of being one of the most popular diplomats ever to have been stationed at the American capital.
At the outbreak of the Revolution, in 1911, Dr. Wu gave his prompt and fearless support to the Republican cause; and, because of his prestige abroad, won for this cause considerable foreign sympathy and support. In the Provisional Government, at Nanking, Dr. Wu was first appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and, then, Minister of Justice. During the Peace negotiations with the Manchu Government, Dr. Wu was the Chief Representative of the Republicans. Following the removal of the Government to Peking, Dr. Wu retired.
In 1916, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Li Yuan-hung. In 1917, he acted as Premier; and, when the President was forced to dissolve Parliament, at the instance of the militarists, he stood out as an unequivocal protagonist of the Constitution, and refused to countersign the mandate of dissolution.
With Dr. Sun Yat-sen, His Excellency Tong Shao-yi, and other Directors, Dr. Wu organized at Constitutional Government at Canton, having eight south-western provinces under its jurisdiction. He held the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs and, later, that of Minister of Finance. He held the same posts in 1921, when Dr. Sun was elected President, by the Parliament in Canton; and, in addition, he was appointed Civil Governor of Kwangtung Province, in 1922. When General Chen Chiung-ming overthrew this government, the shock, mental as well as physical, caused the breakdown of the veteran statesman, and Dr. Wu died on the 23rd of June 1922. From his political enemies, as well as his friends, from all quarters of the globe, messages of condolence were received, testifying to the universal sorrow felt at the passing of the Grand Old Man of China.