(1871-1949 )


LOU TSENG-TSIANG [Lu Cheng-hsiang ] Lou Tseng-Tsiang was born in 1871, the son of a Chinese Protestant catechist. His father was a member of the London Missionary Society who spent every morning distributing tracts and Bibles. He saw to it that his son was provided with private instruction in the Chinese classics; but Lou Tseng-Tsiang never completed the Confucianist studies which were the traditional prerequisite for public service and political advancement. His father “perceived all the corruption to which the officials of the Imperial Dynasty abandoned themselves” and had no intention that his son should join them. Instead, the boy was enrolled at the age of thirteen and a half in the School of Foreign Languages in Shanghai, an act which was regarded with horror by his father’s fellow-countrymen: “the pupils of this school were regarded as traitors in the making, who, with the aid of these languages, would deliver their country to foreigners.”

Thus both his family traditions and his training made it unlikely that Lou would move in any other direction than the with the new political current in China which recognized the need to confront rather than to retreat from the West. His “foreign” religion and education both made it impossible for him to be fully part of the old China represented by the rapidly-decaying Manchu dynasty. He completed his studies in French at Pekin, and at the age of twenty-one was sent to serve as an interpreter at the Chinese legation at St. Petersburg.

Shu King-Shen

There he found to his surprise that his chief, Shu King-Shen, [Xu Jingcheng (Hsü Ching-ch’eng)] wished to train him as a diplomat despite the fact that Lou had not taken the traditional Confucianist examinations. With his father’s permission Lou agreed to this and accepted Shu as his master.

 Lou received from his master the vision of a rejuvenated China which would use modernization as a means of reviving traditional Chinese values. Lou was told to study the West closely in order to determine which forces in western society and government could be of benefit to China and which might prove destructive [11]. Shu King- shen was particularly interested in Roman Catholicism; he advised Lou:

 “The strength of Europe is not to be found in her armamants... (nor) in her science; it is to be found in her religion. Take the most ancient branch of that religion, that which goes back most nearly to its origins. Enter into it. Study its doctrines...And later on, when you have ended your career. perhaps you will have the opportunity to go still farther. In this most ancient branch, choose the most ancient society. If you can do so, enter into it also. Make yourself its follower, and study the interior life which must be the secret of it. When you have understood and won the secret of that life, when you have grasped the heart and strength of the religion of Christ, bring them and give them to China.[11-12]

 This was extraordinary advice. Lou Tseng-Tsiang, whose religion and education threatened to separate him from his native culture, had been told that he could play an important role in the new China which was emerging. He would make the study of Catholicism his life’s work and would offer its most ancient practices and truths to to a country enduring the last agonies of a dying regime. Neither he nor his master had any illusions concerning what lay ahead for China: the Manchu Dynasty had adopted a disastrous policy of isolation from the West which was culminating in the subjugation of their country to the very foreign powers which the emperors had sought to ignore. The end of an epoch was rapidly approaching, and the advice of Shu King-shen was: “Watch, keep silent, and, when the hour comes, reform.” [10] Neither of them realized how completely they would both be caught up in the political convulsions which lay ahead.

 Whatever vestiges of dignity the Chinese people had been able to maintain in the face of foreigners was about to be shorn away. The Opium Wars had forced them to permit foreign traders and missionaries to live and travel unmolested throughout the “Celestial Kingdom”; but China had not been transformed into the colony of a foreign power. French and British consuls frequently interfered with local justice, usually at the insistence of missionaries; but the authority of the Chinese imperial government remained substantially in tact. In fact, the British government tried whenever possible to support the central government [e.g. in putting down the T’aip’ing rebellion, which had been started by a pseudo-Christian in 1865{Elwes, 192 - also Latourette HCMC{], fearing that the immense and unwieldly Chinese Empire might collapse if the Manchu dynasty were suddenly to fall. [Neil CCM 146-7] Other western nations with interests in the Orient maintained similar policies. Thus by the last decade of the nineteenth century the existence of China as an independent nation had become a question of international sufferance, unrelated to the emperor’s military or political power. This sufferance was about to end.

 In July 1894, eighteen months after Lou Tseng-Tsiang arrived in Russia, Japan was at war with China. Like China, Japan had maintained a period of prolonged and intense isolation from the West, but this had ended in the middle of the nineteenth century. Japan rapidly learned from the West the science of modern warfare and embarked on a policy of expansion which was to afflict China for the next fifty years. The Sino-Japanese war of 1894 was brief. China was quickly defeated, and the treaties of 1895 demonstrated to the world the true extent of China’s weakness. The Japanese demanded and were granted the same rights over China enjoyed by the western powers (rights which the Japanese were seeking to eliminate within their own territories [L>HiCul 380)] Japan was prevented from obtaining substantial territorial rights in China only through the intervention of France and Russia, whose motives were hardly disinterested. The dismembering of China had begun: the Chinese government was powerless to do anything but grant concessions; and the various powers now vied with other for control of Chinese ports and territories.

 In St. Petersburg Lou Tseng-Tsiang continued his diplomatic training in an exceedingly depressing political climate. During the years 1896-98 first Germany, then Russia, France, and Britain demanded and were granted leases on ports as well as rail and mineral rights in the interior of China. In an effort to meet the challenges presented by the western powers the young Emperor Kuang Hsu tentatively attempted to implement “westernizing” reforms. However he was imprisoned in September 1898 by the reactionary Empress Dowager, Tzu Hsi, who was alarmed by his progressive approach. She resumed the regency in his name and sanctioned a widespread anti-foreign movement throughout China which culminated in the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1900. As before in China’s history, militant xenophobia resulted in the persecution of Christianity, the “foreigner’s religion”; and during the rebellion around 200 foreign missionaries and over 30,000 Chinese Christians were killed.

 In the midst of these troubles Lou met a Belgian Catholic woman whom he married in St. Petersburg in February 1899.

Madame Lou Berthe Bovy

This marriage to a foreigner and a Catholic during a period of widespread anti-foreign feeling within China was opposed unsuccessfully by Lou’s superiors. It was from his perspective an act in complete conformity with the program set him by his master, who had returned to Pekin two years earlier [Kerr 223]. But Lou’s happiness was short-lived: the Dowager Empress tried to avoid personal responsibility for the Boxer Rebellion and found a scapegoat in the person of Lou’s master, Shu King-shen. In reality, Shu’s advice would have helped to avoid the reprisals and humiliating indemnities imposed on China by the western powers which crushed the rebellion [Lou 19]. But he was nonetheless sentenced to death and beheaded in the market-place in Pekin on July 29, 1900.

Shu King-Shen

The Dowager Empress

 Disillusionment following the judicial murder of his master almost ended Lou’s diplomatic career. How could he continue to serve a regime capable of such acts? However his new chief advised him to “...avenge your master in remaining worthy of him and in carrying out the programme for which he has sacrificed his life.”  Lou remained with the Legation, intent on his study of the West and of Catholicism, and was made Counsellor in 1905. He clearly identified himself with the revolutionary movement at this time by the simple act of cutting off his “queue”, the pigtail which the Manchu dynasty had obliged all Chinese to wear under penalty of death since their rise to power in the seventeenth century. Notwithstanding this symbolic act of defiance and his intense interest in the movement led by Sun Yat-Sen [Lou 29], Lou was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary in 1907 and delegated to open the Chinese Legation at The Hague, where he remained for four years.

 In 1911 Lou Tseng Tsiang returned to St. Petersburg as Minister of China. In that year he became a Roman Catholic, to the surprise and delight of his wife, who had never attempted to influence him on this question. Part of Shu King-shen’s program for his disciple had now been fulfilled: Lou had joined what he considered to be the oldest branch of Christianity. It now remained for him to enter more deeply into it and to offer its wisdom to the new China which was at that moment coming into being; for Sun Yat-Sen’s revolutionary movement was succeeding, and Imperial China was passing away. In 1912 the emperor abdicated in favor of the Republic, and by an almost unanimous vote the provisional Parliament invited Lou to return to China to direct the foreign policy of the new government.

Lou Tseng-Tsiang i

Lou returned to China a man with political influence and a Catholic. During his eight years as Minister for Foreign Affairs he sought on at least two occasions to confront obstacles to the growth of Catholicism in China. The first issue was the common perception of Christianity as an alien religion opposed to Chinese tradition. This “hardness of heart” on the part of the Chinese was balanced by an equally problematic attitude on the part of missionaries who, especially since the Boxer Rebellion, mistrusted the Chinese and regarded China as “conquered territory”, rendered safe only by the presence of foreign consulates and troops [L HiCul 394]. Lou “dreamt of obtaining for the Chinese State the spiritual cooperation of the Catholic Church” [Lou 81]; and to this end he arranged that a solemn Te Deum be sung by the Vicar Apostolic of Pekin to be attended by the diplomatic corps:

Lou Tseng-Tsiang in 1922

“The purpose was to introduce publicly a new spirit into the relations of the Chinese State with the religion of Jesus Christ.” [Ibid.]

 Unhappily, the significance of this unprecedented ceremony seems to have been lost on both the presiding prelates and the attending diplomats. The early years of the Republic were replete with experiments by all the major religions in China, intended to adapt traditional beliefs to the new political climate [HCMC 532]. Lou’s efforts were no more successful than those of the Confucianists or Buddhists.

 The second problem, the attitudes of missionaries, was beyond his power to address on a local level; but as Minister of Foreign Affairs he had access to higher spheres of influence. In 1918 he received permission from the government to establish diplomatic relations between the Republic and the Holy See. Unfortunately, his efforts were opposed by the French, who had thwarted an earlier attempt to establish a nunciature in China under Leo XIII in 1886 [Holmes 21, Baumg 537] The French, who periodically jailed and exiled their own priests during waves of anticlericalism in France, paradoxically insisted on their right to protect Catholic missionaries in China. One effect of Lou’s plan would have been the establishment of a direct link between Rome and the Church in China without France as intermediary, and so his efforts were blocked by the French government. [Rev The de Louv 7 pp. I-XI].

 The political role which Lou Tseng-Tsiang was required to fill in the new Republic was exceedingly perilous. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs in a nation occupied as a “hypercolony” [Sun Yat Sen quoted by Lou p.32] by multiple foreign powers. In addition he had to face the growing military threat of Japan, knowing that his nation had no power to defend itself. Finally, the government which he represented was highly unstable. The “Republic” was the first experiment in representative government by a people who had never known democracy. In actuality the provinces were at the mercy of local warlords: one of these, Yuan Che-Kai was the first President of the Republic. Within three years of his accession he attempted to abolish the Republic, and proclaimed himself emperor. This was widely resisted, however; and he died the following year, leaving China in a state of chronic civil war.

Lou Tseng-Tsiang

Such was the nation Lou attempted to serve. He was able to resist Japanese aggression by means of skillful diplomatic negotiations both during and immediately following the First World War. However his achievements were quickly forgotten, and he was later held responsible for concessions forced upon China by Japan,the infamous “Twenty-One Demands”, for which President Yuan was largely to blame [Kerr, p. 224]. Lou decided to withdraw from the Office for Foreign Affairs in 1920; and in 1922 he and his wife left China, never to return. In later reflecting on what he had endured Lou concluded:

 “In every period of transition the two opposing currents are very violent. To escape from them one must be prepared to be judged unfavorably by both. So one must learn to be alone [10].”

Priestly Ordinaation
Lou Tseng-Tsiang

Theodore Neve and Gaspar Levebre

Five years later his solitude was increased still further by the death of his wife. That same year he entered the monastery of Saint-Andre, Brugge where he became a Benedictine monk, believing that he had thus fulfilled his master Shu’s advice to enter into the “most ancient society” of Christianity’s “most ancient branch.”

Abbot Theodore Neve
Abbot Lou Tseng-Tsiang

Abbot  Lou

He was ordained priest in 1935 and named titular Abbot of Saint-Pierre, Ghent in 1946. He wrote and spoke widely in support of the “Christianization of Chinese culture and civilization” [Kerr 225], stressing similarities between Confucianism and the Benedictine tradition [94-96]. He fervently hoped that his monastery’s Chinese foundation in the province of Szechwan might become an important instrument for the evangelization of his native land; and his death in 1949 spared him the knowledge of that community’s expulsion from China under the communists in 1951.

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