Wu Ting-Fang

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Wu Ting-Fang


Beautiful florid signature in fountain pen, mounted on paper below small engraved reproduction.

WU TING-FANG (1842-1922), also known as Ng Choy, 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.

Wu studied at the Anglican St. Paul’s College, in Hong Kong where he learned to read and write English. He later studied law in England at University College London and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn (1876). Wu became the first ethnically Chinese barrister in history. After being called to the bar in England, he returned to practice law in Hong Kong. Later, Wu became the first ethnically Chinese unofficial member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (appointed 1880).

He served under the Qing Dynasty as Minister to the United States, Spain, and Peru from 1896 to 1902 and from 1907 to 1909. In this role he lectured widely about Chinese culture and history, in part working to counter discrimination against Chinese emigrants by increasing foreign appreciation of their background. To further this end, he published America, through the spectacles of an Oriental diplomat in English in 1914.

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 Ting-Fang 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.”

He supported the Xinhai Revolution 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. 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.

Wu 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. Wu died shortly after Chen Jiongming rebelled against Sun.


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