History of War
Xu Jingcheng was a major political figure and served as a diplomatic envoy to several European countries during a political career that spanned more than three decades. He was a key advocate of modernisation in China and supported the Hundred Days’ Reforms, which resulted in improvements in infrastructure such as railways and other public works.
As a young diplomat Xu gained an understanding of European industrialisation during the late 19th century and authored an encyclopaedia of foreign ships and naval vessels, while advocating the modernisation of the Qing government’s navy. In 1890 he returned to Beijing and rose to a post among the top six ministers of the Chinese government.
Sometime during his diplomatic sojourn, Xu converted to Roman Catholicism. As the Boxer Rebellion took shape at the turn of the 20th century he spoke openly against the violence and breaches of international law that he realised would bring retribution from Western powers. His Christian faith made Xu a target of suspicion and ridicule among the Boxers, as well as those in the Qing government who supported them.
As the unrest of the Boxer Rebellion spread to Beijing from the northern Shandong Province, Xu was one of six liberal members of the court that issued a petition to Dowager Empress Tz’u-hzi seeking a diplomatic solution to the uprising and opposing any further support for the Boxers. The empress was enraged by its language and decreed that Xu and the other ministers should be put to death for “building subversive thought” and “wilfully and absurdly petitioning the imperial court”.
Xu was beheaded on 28 July 1900 at the Caishikou Execution Grounds in Beijing, and his severed head was displayed as a warning to others. His protégé, Lou Tseng-tsiang, later served as a diplomat and became a Catholic priest and missionary as well as Chinese prime minister.