Wu Ting-fang

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Ng Choy (Wu Ting-fang)
Wu Tingfang2.jpg
Acting Premier of the Republic of China
In office
23 May 1917 – 12 June 1917
PresidentLi Yuanhong
Feng Guozhang (acting)
Preceded byDuan Qirui
Succeeded byJiang Chaozong (acting)
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
Preceded byLou Tseng-Tsiang
Succeeded byWang Daxie
Ambassador of Qing Empire to the United States
In office
8 March 1908 – 12 August 1909
MonarchsGuangxu 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
AwardsOrder of Rank and Merit[1]
Order of the Precious Brilliant Golden Grain[1]
Order of the Rising Sun.[1]
Wu Ting-fang
Ng Choy

Wu Ting-fang (Chinese: 伍廷芳; 30 July 1842 – 23 June 1922) was a diplomat and politician who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and briefly as Acting Premier during the early years of the Republic of China. He was also known as Ng Choy or Ng Achoy[2] (Chinese: 伍才; pinyin: Wǔ Cái).

Journalist Marguerite Martyn illustrates her interview in Washington, D.C. with Wu Tingfang, retiring minister from China to the United States. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of October 24, 1909.

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.[3] 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,[4] he married 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. 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 [Judah P. Benjamin] 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.[5]: 262 

In 1880, Wu became the first ethnic Chinese Unofficial member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong[5]: 297  and was appointed acting Police Magistrate.[5]: 303 

Service under the Qing Dynasty[edit]

Wu in 1908, from the El Paso (Texas) Daily Times

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.[5]: 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.[6] To further this end, he wrote America, Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat in English in 1914.[7]

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."[8]

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.[9]

In an interview with American journalist Marguerite Martyn, Wu Tingfang argued in favor of women's suffrage.[10]

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.[11] 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 was a vegetarian who consumed eggs and milk (ovo-lacto vegetarian).[12][13][14] He believed that a non-flesh diet would prolong his life and he would live over a hundred years.[15] Wu abstained from alcohol and tobacco after reading Mary Foote Henderson's book The Aristocracy of Health.[16][17] He gave speeches on vegetarianism and authored an article "How I Expect to Live Long", published in November 1909 for the Ladies' Home Journal.[18]

Wu founded the Rational Diet Society in Shanghai, also known as the Society for Cautious Diet and Hygiene (Shenshi Weisheng Hui) with Li Shizeng in September, 1910.[18][19][20] It was the first vegetarian organization in Shanghai and had about 300 members. The society met at Wu's residence for lectures on the dangers of alcohol, meat-eating and tobacco.[18] Wu also established a vegetarian restaurant known as Micaili in Shanghai at Hotel des Colonies in the French Concession (now on East Yan'an Road). It was the first vegetarian restaurant in China to experiment with western vegetarian cuisine.[20] His public lectures on dieting were influential. Wu and his Society argued for the public to eat more wheat. The Society introduced a Western-styled bakery to the Shanghainese that offered home-delivered wheat flour bread.[19]

Wu was an anti-smoking activist. An offshoot of the Rational Diet Society was the Anti-Cigarette Smoking Society that formed in June, 1911.[18] The Society warned the public about the health dangers of cigarette smoking. Wu wrote about the subject in his book Yanshou xinfa (New Methods to Prolong Life), in 1914.[18] Wu was an enthusiastic bicycle rider.[21]


Wu died on 23 June 1922 from pneumonia.[22]

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.

Selected publications[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Wu Ting-fang Ng Choy, Geni.com|
  2. ^ "Wu Ting Fang" (PDF). Lincoln's Inn. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 June 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Wu Ting-fang 伍廷芳". TheChinaStory.org. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  4. ^ http://sunzi.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/view/44/4401147.pdf. Chinese Unofficial Members of the Legislative and Executive Councils in Hong Kong up to 1941, T C Cheng
  5. ^ a b c d Norton-Kyshe, James William (1898). History of the Laws and Courts of Hong Kong. Vol. II. London: T Fisher Unwin.
  6. ^ Wong, K. Scott. (1995) Chinatown: conflicting images, contested terrain. MELUS 20(1):3–15.
  7. ^ Wu Tingfang, America, Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat Stokes (1914); Bastian Books (2008) ISBN 0-554-32616-7
  8. ^ 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)
  9. ^ "Knews.cc". knews.cc. Archived from the original on 28 March 2022. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  10. ^ Martyn, Marguerite (11 October 1909). "Wu Ting Fang tells Marguerite Martyn why the American woman should vote". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, Missouri. p. 1B. - Clipping from Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ Xu Xiaoqun. (1997) The fate of judicial independence in Republican China, 1912–37. The China Quarterly 149:1–28.
  12. ^ Wu Ting-Fang, Vegetarian. The Sun (5 May 1908).
  13. ^ How Wu Ting Fang "Saturated" Some of His American Friends. The Hawaiian Star (24 November 1911).
  14. ^ Wu, Liande; Wu, Lien-tê. (1959). Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician. W. Heffer. p. 274. "Dr. Wu Ting-Fang was a strict vegetarian though he believed in the taking of milk and eggs and always said that he would live for 120 years."
  15. ^ Keith, M. Helen. (1916). Is Vegetarianism Based on Sound Science?. Scientific American 82: 358-359.
  16. ^ Benedict, Carol. (2011). Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550–2010. University of California Press. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-520-26277-5
  17. ^ Wilson, Brian C. (2014). Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living. Indiana University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-253-01447-4
  18. ^ a b c d e Pomerantz-Zhang, Linda. (1992). Wu Tingfang (1842-1922): Reform and Modernization in Modern Chinese History. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 183-190. ISBN 978-9622092877
  19. ^ a b Seung-Joon, Lee. (2015). The Patriot's Scientific Diet: Nutrition Science and Dietary Reform Campaigns in China, 1910s-1950s. Modern Asian Studies 49 (6): 1-32.
  20. ^ a b Leung, Angela Ki Che; Caldwell, Melissa L. (2019). Moral Foods: The Construction of Nutrition and Health in Modern Asia. University of Hawai'i Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-0824876708
  21. ^ "Wu Ting-Fang Is Dead In Canton". The New York Herald (24 June 1922).
  22. ^ Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1922. Volume 1. United States Government Printing Office, 1938. p. 274. "Wu Ting-fang died at one this morning [of] pneumonia after brief illness."

Further reading[edit]

  • Pomerantz-Zhang, Linda. (1992). Wu Tingfang (1842–1922): Reform and Modernisation in Modern Chinese History. ISBN 962-209-287-X.
  • Pollard, S. (1921) In Unknown China: A Record of the Observations, Adventures and Experiences of a Pioneer Missionary During a Prolonged Sojourn Amongst the Wild and Unknown Nosu Tribe of Western China. London, Seeley, Service and Company Limited, 53-54.

External links[edit]

Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Preceded by Unofficial Member
Succeeded byas unofficial
New office Senior Chinese Unofficial Member
Title next held by
Wong Shing
Political offices
Preceded by Premier of the Republic of China
23–25 May 1917
Succeeded by