(Lou Tseng-Tsiang)


by Pen Tuo (Fr. Thaddeus Yong An-Yuen, OSB)
China Correspondent, Bose Press, (Calcutta, August 1944), pp. 10-16)

The author of the “Reminiscences of a Benedictine Monk” interrupts the orderly course of his narrative this month, to tell the story of the humble priest in far-off Belgium, who as he offers the chalice to God each morning in Holy Mass, prays first for China, the nation of which he was once Prime Minister.

Dom Peter Celestine prays in retirement at St. Andre’s, Belgium. Few know that he is Lu Cheng-hsiang, first Prime Minister of the Chinese Republic.

THE guest master of Abbaye de Saint Andre’ near Bruges, in Belgium, was unusually nervous that morning of June, 1927. He swallowed his frugal breakfast hurriedly and in large drafts, and then ran here and there, hunting the cloister and corridors for the young clerics and novices Father Abbot had promised to put under his orders that particular day.

I was one of these fortunate novices, and I knew what the excitement was all about; but I purposely questioned the guest-master—just to amuse myself, for when he was excited he spoke like a machine gun, blowing to pieces conjunctions and prepositions, tenses and modes.

“Brother Pen Tuo”, he said, dragging me out of the dining hall, “looking novices whole morning . . . Important business . . . Chinese Minister coming . . . Nothing ready. ..”

“What Chinese Minister?” I asked innocently.

“Well, yes, Chinese Minister. Great Statesman . . . Prime Minister . . . Minister of Foreign Affairs. . .Coming here. . .Noviciate ... Monastic life. . . Great honor... Hot water . . . Chinese wash hot water . . . Drink hot tea...”

Before I had time to ask for further detail about the hot water, he had flown away to the railway station. I went to the kitchen to get a basin of hot water—and to finish my breakfast, for the signal for work was not yet sounded, and I was not used to praying and doing manual work empty-stomached—like the guest master and other experienced monks.

Two hours later he came back with a smartly dressed middle-aged Chinese gentleman—black tail coat and striped trousers, black soft felt hat, gold-rimmed spectacles, black moustache and thin beard. He spoke slowly but his French was flawless, as if French was his mother tongue. The humility of his attitude contrasted singularly with the elegance of his attire. He seemed to personify both old and new China.

His Excellency Mr. Lu Cheng-hsiang did not come to the Benedictine abbey as a tourist or for a week’s retreat. He wanted to spend the rest of his eventful life in the cloister, chanting the glory of the God who had covered him with all the glories of the world.

The story of his life reads more like fiction than reality. From his father’s obscure little bookshop in Shanghai he ascended step by step the official ladder of China. Born in 1870, at the age of twenty he was sent to Petrograd as interpreter at the Chinese Legation. Two years later he was promoted to the position of attaché and first secretary, and deputed to accompany the Chinese Envoy Extraordinary to Russia to attend the coronation of the Tsar. In 1899 he was China’s Delegate to the first Hague Conference. Six years later, the Imperial Chinese Government appointed him Minister to the Netherlands, a position which he held from 1905 to 1911, when he was transferecl to Russia as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.

In 1911, great political, movements swept his own country. The Empire toppled, and in its place a Republic was set up. Great was his surprise to learn that he was appointed first Prime Minister. Returning to China he took office, concurrently holding the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. In 1914 he was Master of Ceremony in the President’s Office. One year after the outbreak of World War I, he was Prime Minister again, and from 1917 to 1920 Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which capacity he represented China at the Paris Peace Conference. After the war he remained in Europe as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister PIenipotentiary to Switzerland and also China’s representative to the League of Nations and the International Labor Conference. He was still Minister to Switzerland when he knocked at the door of Abbaye de Saint Andre’ that early summer morning.

In accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict, Father Abbot invited him to stay a few days in the guest house, before giving him the monastic habit. I was appointed his ‘Guardian Angel’—not that I was any more angelical than the other novices,, but because in a Benedictine monastery every postulant is given a novice as ‘guardian angel’ to guide his first monastic steps and to see to it that he observes the Rule faithfully. My task was an easy one. After two days Mr. Lu knew the Rule better than I did, and followed every word of it with the greatest punctuality.

As the guest master had told me in his machine gun language, Mr. Lu did need hot water—not to wash his face nor drink his tea, but to wash his feet with. Twice a day—early in the morning and before going to bed, at night—I brought him a kettle of boiling water.

“You see, Brother Pen Tuo”, he said to me apologetically the evening of his arrival, “it has become a habit with me--when I don’t dip my feet in hot water before going to bed, I remain awake the whole night.”

His will, however, was stronger than his habit. “Please don’t bring me hot water any more”, he told me a few days later, “I have left the world, and I must use cold water like everybody else.” The same day that he gave up hot water he made up his mind not to let me (or anybody else) sweep his room and make his bed any longer. He went a step further—he cleaned his own basin and fetched water himself. More than Father Abbot and the novice master, I was pleased with this steady progress in Mr. Lu’s abnegation—for I was never an expert in handling the broom and cleaning basins.

Before the end of the week Mr. Lu cut off his hair, shaved his beard and moustache, and bartered his tail coat and striped trousers for the coarse Benedictine cassock and cowl. On this occasion King Albert I of Belgium sent him a congratulatory letter written with his own hand; the Chinese Ministers to Paris, Brussels, the Hague and Lisbon, and many Belgian dignitaries attended the religious functions and the banquet. The monastery was buzzing the whole day like a bee hive. Never had Saint Andre’ so select a gathering for the entry of a postulant.

That day I was porter and waiter at the guests’ table. As porter my duty was to give a pinch of holy water to every solemn professed and every guest going into the dining hall. The Chinese Minister to Lisbon, to whom I gave a bit of holy water with two right hand fingers, grabbed my hand and shook it warmly, saying, “He, he, kwei sing, kwei sing ?”—”Your honorable name, your honorable name?” I laughed so much that I had’ to leave my post and hide myself behind the huge door of the dining hall—and take my bowl of soup on my knees before Father Abbot’s table, as punishment.

Fr. Lu was determined to study Latin, philosophy and theology in order to become a priest. It was no easy job for a fifty-seven-year-old man—nor for me, who had the honor to teach him, for I knew not much more Latin than Greek or Hebrew. Nonetheless we got along nicely together. When we were through with our “Rosa, rose, rosarum” we spoke of Confucius and Buddha and the art of drinking tea in China, and time passed—agreeably.

In spite of his foreign education and-his long stay in Europe, Fr. Lu remained profoundly Chinese, and a Chinese of the Confucian type, putting intellectual knowledge and the practice of traditional virtues above wealth and honors. He did not like to speak about his activities as statesman. Whenever interviewed on this subject, he invariably said, “I have done nothing in the past—at least nothing worth speaking about.” But he liked to speak about his former master, Mr. Hsu Ching-cheng, grand dignitary at the Imperial Court, who gave his life in defence of foreigners. During the Boxer uprising, the Empress-Dowager signed an imperial decree ordering the execution of all foreign residents in China. “Whenever you meet a foreigner, you must slay him”, the decree read ; “if the  foreigner attempts to escape, slay him at once.” Mr. Hsu and another dignitary, Yuen Chang, changed the word ‘sha’ (to slay or to kill) into ‘pao’ (to protect), and here is the result of this bold action according to the Diary of a Manchu prince : “Yesterday Li Ping-heng and Kang Yi discovered that the word ‘slay’ in Her Majesty’s decree ordering the extermination of all foreigners had been altered to ‘protect’ by Yuen Chang and Hsu Ching-cheng. I have just seen Kang Yi and he says that Her Majesty’s face is divine in its wrath. Both were executed this morning; my son En Ming witnessed their death.”

Fr. Lu was never ashamed of his obscure origin. He often spoke with veneration of his parents, because for him filial piety was the first of human virtues. “My parents have left this world”, he told me one day, “yours are still living, and you are really fortunate?’ And he added, “Henceforth I shall consider your parents as mine.” He lived up to his resolution. On every special occasion he wrote to my grandfather or my father, calling the former ‘grand uncle’ and the latter ‘uncle’.

He insisted on the necessity of learning, too. “I am getting old”, he said repeatedly, “my memory is dull; I can’t Iearn anything new. But you, Brother Pen Tuo, you are still young, you have a bright future before you. You must make the best of all the opportunities our good Father Abbot offers you. China’s future depends on her young men and women.” And when I prepared my thesis at Louvain University he did all he could to help me. With Fr. Abbot’s permission he bought for me almost all the reference books I needed.

He himself spent all his spare time in reading old and new books, Chinese and foreign. He knew the Chinese Classics thoroughly. His conversations were always stuffed with quotations from Confucius and Mencius, the most revered of China’s Sages. But for him knowledge must go hand in hand with humility.

“A learned man who is proud or spiteful”, he said, “is a dangerous man.” “Even Confucius,” he added, “one of the most learned men of all times, says that in every three men he finds a master”. He liked to quote St. Paul, too, who says that a man who can move mountains but has no charity is as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

Fr. Lu was one of the busiest men in St. Andre’. Even before his ordination to the priesthood, he received an average of ten letters a day, mostly from people of high social position, asking for advice. He answered them all himself, for he is one of those who hate to trouble even their own servants. “My master Hsu told me never to rely on others for anything I can do myself”, he said time and again, “I must follow his teaching.” Although his health was never too good, yet when he was not ill he attended all the spiritual exercises prescribed by the Rule. During the bitter cold of 1928, when the thermometer marked 20 degrees centigrade below zero, and all the stoves were frozen, he did not miss a single morning prayer. Like the other monks he was in the choir at 4.30 a.m., and remained there two or three hours, until it was time for breakfast.

At table he took the same frugal meal as everyone else, and like everybody he washed his own bowl and spoon. He never talked about food. Everything put before him seemed to be good enough for this man used to the tables of emperors and kings.

While he was a postulant and a novice, he took part in the most humble manual work. He was porter. He served at table. He scrubbed the floors and dusted the windows. He did everything except ringing the church bells, which was beyond his physical strength.

Before his solemn profession, Fr. Lu gave up what was left of his personal belongings. His precious scrolls were offered to the abbey, and his Chinese books —one of the richest private collections—to the American-endowed library of Louvain University. The highest decorations he had received from his own Government and from France, Belgium and other countries, he presented to the Holy Father Pope Pius XI. Using his wedding ring and the jewels of late Madame Lu, he made a Chinese-style chalice. The Catholic University of Peiping received from him a large box of bronze medals to be distributed as prizes to meritorious graduates. His saving was deposited in a bank for educational purposes. Only three things remained: his great heart, his great learning, his great experience—and even these he readily gave away without measure to those who sought his advice or consolation. He had been a great statesman. Now he became a great disciple of Christ and a worthy son of Saint Benedict.

Fr. Lu was ordained priest by Archbishop Celso Costantini, Secretary of Propaganda and former Apostolic Delegate to China, in June, 1935. For the second time since his entry into Abbaye de St. Andre’, he was invited to go to Rome, and for the second time he declined the invitation, under pretext of ill health. He had given the same reason when sometime before his ordination he was proposed as future Bishop of Nanking. But then he told me his real motive. “I’ll tell you the truth, Fr. Pen Tuo”, he said to me confidentially, “I have abandoned all the worldly honors a man could dream of. Why should I go back to the world again? As Our Lord says, ‘He. who puts his hand to the plough must not turn back’ ...”

This did not mean that Fr. Lu had lost interest in the general affairs of the world. In his monastic cell, his active mind was always full of the welfare of his Country, his Church and his Order, and he keenly followed the international events day by day.  I know he was working actively for an exchange of diplomatic representatives between China and the Vatican, and I remember how indignant he was when he heard of the cold murder of Dol-fuss by Hitler. His admiration for Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was boundless. “At last we have a man that will save China !” he said to me with pride in July, 1927. And asked by a Belgian friend if the Generalissimo would be able to govern so vast a country as China, he answered, “Certainly! and I am fully convinced that before long he will unify China and make her one of the most prosperous nations of the world.” His prediction has fully materialized.

Before I left Belgium with Fr. Wen Kia-li [Raphael Vinciarelli], the present Prior of the Benedictine monastery of Si-shan, Nanchung, north of Chungking, Fr. Lu said to the latter :

“Reverend- Father Raphael, there are people who say that everything in China is perfect, and there are others—still more numerous—who say that anything Chinese is bad, despisable. Both are wrong. In China as anywhere, there are good and bad things, good and bad people. You must bear this in mind if you want to avoid disillusionment. But I wish to tell you another thing. You are going to China to work for the good of China and the Chinese people, and you are not likely to come back to Europe again. In order that your work may be crowned with full success, you should like our people, live in their midst, share their joy and sorrows.” He said again: “The Chinese people are fond of learning. Our monastery in Szechwan, as those in Europe, should contribute to the advancement of learning. Show our people what is really good in Western civilization, and when you know enough of China’s ages-long culture, make it known to the West. You will thus be of service to both China and Europe.”

Fr. Wen has not forgotten this wise counsel. Since his arrival in China nine years ago, he has been applying himself to the study of the Chinese language and civilization ; he has taken out Chinese citizenship, and is planning for the establishment of a Sino-Western Institute of Cultural Research in Chengtu, capital of Szechwan province. The realization of this plan, according to Fr. Wen—who is well versed in Latin and Greek philosophy and literature—depends on the intellectual and material co-operation of those who, like Fr. Lu Cheng-hsiang, wish to foster a closer cultural understanding between the East and the West.




The Monastery Chapel





following morning