Monday, November 14, 2005

The Prince and the Diplomat

All rather unfortunate and decidedly unflattering on the 57th anniversary of Prince Charles' birth to be reminded of his rather shocking, albeit private memoirs of the Handover (of the Great Chinese Takeaway). Less said here the better, although his repressed feelings of the time must surely be harder to swallow for China's leadership than Patten's vocal calls for democracy around that same time. I wonder if Prince Charles will become the #1 British bugbear for China on a day when al-Qaeda said, outrageously, that the Queen was their number one target? His last Governor in Hong Kong is faring far better, receiving raputrous receptions amidst his somewhat more muted but still clear proclamations in support of local democracy. Patten's book, Not Quite the Diplomat, is selling well in local stores.

But speaking of diplomats, today is the 20th anniversary of the death one of China's most famous diplomats in the last century: his name was V.K. (Vi Kyuin) Wellington Koo.

The observant among you will notice that Mr. Koo was from one of the only dialect groups that can pronounce the English letter 'V' properly - the Shanghainese. He was born in that city in 1888. He attended Columbia University and actually got his Ph.D from that august institution in 1912. Three years later, he was appointed the Chinese Minister to the United States - an important job, to be sure, but one for a country whose legimitacy was far from clear at that time. Mr. Koo, incidentally, was replacing Wu Ting-Fang (who, when initially known as Ng Choy, was the first Chinese admitted to the British Bar, and the first Chinese in Legco).

He then went on to have a storied career - he represented China at the Versailles Treaty discussions, and when he was refused his demands that foreign extraterritoriality be removed from China, he was the only representative that did not sign the Treaty. He was a founder of the League of Nations, and acted as the country's northern President in 1926-1927 when the Nationalists were trying to exterminate the previously burgeoning Communist movement. He then acted as China's Foreign Minister during the war years, and finally represented the Republic of China in Washington when the Nationalists were retreating to Taiwan. He called time on his career in 1956 after having served his country for 44 years and through two World Wars (my last post reminded me of him) and through China's turbulent century. He retired in Taiwan and later to New York, where he lived until 1985 and died at the ripe old age of 98.

There are many untold threads to the rich story of this man's life that I will save for another time. While the 20th century was a traumatic one for China, the characters, personalities and forces of man, imperialism and nature were woven into an incredibly complex, compelling fabric - study it at your leisure, and enjoy!

No comments: