Born in 1887 in Shanghai, Wellington Koo was China’s most celebrated diplomat of modern times. His ancestral home was in a small walled city of Kah-Ding about 30 kilometers from downtown Shanghai, today’s Jiading District, where Shanghai University’s branch campus is located. In 1900, Koo entered St. John’s University in Shanghai. In 1904 Koo traveled to the United States together with a group of students on government scholarships.
After a year’s preparatory study at Cook Academy, in Montour Falls, New York, Koo matriculated in liberal arts at Columbia University. He received an M.A. in 1909 and a Ph.D. in 1912 in political science and international law under John Bassett Moore (1860-1947), an eminent jurist specializing in international law. Responding to a call by Tang Shaoyi, premier of the new Chinese Republic, and with the encouragement of Moore, Koo left for China where he first worked as English secretary to President Yuan Shikai. Koo’s diplomatic and interpersonal skills made him stand out among his peers, and his services were retained by successive governments. In 1915, just three years after launching his career, Koo was promoted to the position of Chinese minister to the United States.
Following World War I, Koo was a leading member of the Chinese delegation to the 1919 Paris Conference and the Washington Conference. In the aftermath of the Mukden Incident of 1931, as minister to France, Koo represented Nationalist China on the Lytton Commission of Inquiry and later at the League of Nations in Geneva, where he solicited support for China against Japan’s invasion of Manchuria. In 1943, as Chinese ambassador to the Court of St. James in London, Koo negotiated two important treaties with Britain and the U.S. dealing with the relinquishment of extraterritoriality. After retiring from his post as the Nationalist government’s ambassador to Washington in 1956, he was elected an international judge at the Hague, a position he held until 1966.
Text credit: Dong Wang, The United States and China: A History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), p. 169.
Wellington Koo Museum in Jiading, Shanghai. Photo by Dong Wang, 2019.
Wen Yuan-ning (1900-84) in 1934, courtesy of Christopher Rea