Chou Tzu-ch'i (1871-20 October 1932), government official, served Yuan Shih-k'ai's government as minister of finance. Because of his complicity in Yuan's monarchical plot, Chou was forced to live in Japan (1916-17) to avoid arrest. He later served as minister of finance (1920) and as acting premier (1922). Although his native place was Shanhsien, Shantung, Chou Tzu-ch'i was born at Canton, where his father was serving as a government official. Because he was brought up in the south, he spoke the Cantonese dialect, which later enabled him to establish and maintain close relations with important Cantonese financial men, of whom Liang Shih-i (q.v.) was the most prominent.
After receiving his early schooling in the Chinese classics at Canton, Chou returned to his native district in Shantung to prepare for the imperial examinations. He obtained the shengyuan degree at an early age and became a senior licentiate in 1894. After studying English at the T'ung-wen-kuan at Peking, he went to the United States to attend Columbia University. After completing his studies at Columbia, Chou Tzu-ch'i in 1896 was appointed a secretary in the Chinese legation at Washington, where he served under Wu T'ing-fang (q.v.). He remained there until 1899, when he was transferred to New York as consul. After two years in New York, he went to Cuba, where he was charge d'affaires at the Chinese legation in Havana in 1901 and 1902. In 1903 Chou was made Chinese consul general at San Francisco, where his familiarity with the Cantonese dialect was an asset to him in dealing with the large Chinese community. In 1904 he was assigned to the Chinese legation at Washington with the rank of first secretary. He remained in Washington for about four years before being recalled to China.
After his arrival at Peking in 1908, Chou was appointed a junior secretary in the Board of Foreign Affairs. Promotion came rapidly, and in two years he rose to become senior secretary, junior counselor, and senior counselor. In 1910 he was sent to the United States to head the Chinese educational mission which supervised Chinese students in that country. The same year, Chou was appointed an attache on Prince Tsai-hsun's mission to Japan and England for the study of naval affairs (see ECCP, I, 376). In 1911 he again went on a mission to England, led by Prince Tsai-chen, to attend the coronation of King George V. Soon after Chou Tzu-ch'i returned to China, the revolt at Wuchang broke out. As the republican revolutionary forces gained power in many parts of China, Yuan Shih-k'ai was called upon to form a cabinet in Peking. Chou Tzuch'i was appointed vice minister of finance. When the republic was formally inaugurated in 1912, Sun Yat-sen resigned from the provisional presidency in favor of Yuan Shih-k'ai. In March, Yuan appointed Chou Tzu-ch'i tutuh [military governor] of Shantung. Chou held that post for slightly more than a year. In August 1913 he was called to Peking and was named acting governor of the Bank of Cahin. In the meantime, the so-called second revolution had been suppressed, and Yuan was slowly consolidating his power and eliminating his opponents. As a transitional step toward the realization of his plan to gain dictatorial power, Yuan in August 1913 appointed Hsiung Hsi-ling (q.v.) premier. Hsiung proceeded to form the so-called first-caliber cabinet, which included such notable figures of the day as Chang Chien, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Sun Pao-ch'i, and Tuan Ch'i-jui (qq.v.). Some of the key positions in the cabinet, however, were assigned by Yuan personally. Chou Tzu-ch'i was selected by Yuan to serve as finance minister, but later was shifted to the post of minister ofcommunications because Hsiung Hsi-ling insisted on assuming the finance portfolio himself.
The Hsiung Hsi-ling cabinet served its purpose by pushing through the adoption of the 1913 election law (as part of the proposed constitution) and the election of Yuan Shih-k'ai to the presidency. Yuan proceeded openly with his measures to suppress the Kuomintang and to suspend the Parliament. In 1914 Yuan promulgated a new provisional constitution, abolished the premiership, and created the post of secretary of state. In February, Hsiung Hsiling resigned as premier and concurrent finance minister. Chou Tzu-ch'i then was appointed finance minister, the post which Yuan had originally allotted him. When the new provisional constitution was enforced, Hsu Shihch'ang (q.v.) was appointed secretary of state, and Chou was reappointed minister of finance. A further revision of the election law, toward the end of 1914, had the effect of making Yuan Shih-k'ai president for life. Yuan's ambitions were unsatisfied, however, and his monarchical aspirations became increasingly apparent. Reportedly, it was Chou Tzu-ch'i who persuaded Frank J. Goodnow, the American consultant on constitutional law, to prepare a memorandum for the government at Peking. Goodnow, a Columbia University professor who later became president of The Johns Hopkins University, reported to Yuan Shih-k'ai that a monarchy was a more suitable form of government for China than a republic. Goodnow's memorandum established the framework for Chinese theorists, who continued discussion of the issue and prepared the ground for a full-scale monarchical campaign during the second half of 1915. Yuan Shih-k'ai completed his arrangements to ascend to the imperial throne. Chou Tzu-ch'i then was entrusted with another important task. To circumvent possible Japanese opposition to the monarchical scheme, Yuan Shih-k'ai decided to cultivate Japan's good will by conferring the highest decoration of the Chinese republic on the Japanese emperor.
In October 1915 Chou Tzu-ch'i was selected as Yuan's special envoy to Japan, and preliminary arrangements were made for the trip. However, in January 1916, just as Chou was about to leave for Tokyo, the Japanese government announced its rejection of Yuan's offer and refused to admit Chou as a special envoy. The cancellation of the trip was reportedly a great relief to Chou, since it removed from him the onus of being the man selected to carry out this mission. In May 1916 Yuan formally revived the cabinet system and apointed Tuan Ch'i-jui premier. At the same time Chou Tzu-ch'i was reappointed minister of finance and director of salt administration affairs. After Yuan died in June 1916, Chou immediately resigned from the government. He was a member of the official committee that arranged Yuan's burial. Li Yuan-hung (q.v.) succeeded to the presidency, and Tuan Ch'i-jui was called upon to form a new government. On 14 July 1916 the new government announced that all men who had been involved in the monarchical scheme would be treated leniently, and, in fact, no action was taken against most of them. Only eight men were charged with being directly responsible for the movement; orders were issued for their arrest. Chou Tzu-ch'i was one of the eight. He fled the country and sought refuge in Japan. Chou's life as an exile lasted until February 1918. When Feng Kuo-chang (q.v.) became acting president, he rescinded the orders for the arrest of Chou Tzu-ch'i, Liang Shih-i, and Chu Chi-ts'en. Liang and Chu were elected speaker and deputy speaker of the Senate in the new Parliament.
Chou Tzu-ch'i resumed his active political career in 1919, when he was appointed director of the currency bureau. In August 1920, under premier Chin Yun-p'eng (q.v.), Chou Tzu-ch'i was appointed finance minister. The financial situation of the Peking government was shaky and confused. Chou, together with Yeh Kungcho (q.v.), the minister of communications, believed that the only practical measure would be to float additional domestic loans. Before attempting that, he and Yeh felt it necessary to restore public confidence by placing the old domestic loans on a proper basis. They drew up a plan for the adjustment of the old loans, but it was opposed by other members of the government, who convinced the premier of its undesirability. In May 1921 Chin Yun-p'eng reorganized his cabinet and replaced both Chou Tzu-ch'i and Yeh Kung-cho. Chou then went to the United States as an adviser to the Chinese delegation to the Washington Conference. In December 1 92 1 Liang Shih-i replaced Chin Yun-p'eng as premier. Liang, however, encountered the opposition of the Chihli clique and about a month later was forced out of office. W. W. Yen (Yen Hui-ch'ing, q.v.) then became acting premier. In March 1922 war broke out between the Chihli clique and the Fengtien clique led by Chang Tso-lin (q.v.), and the latter was defeated in May. Before that time, however, W. W. Yen resigned from the acting premiership, and Chou Tzu-ch'i was appointed his successor. The Chihli clique demanded that Hsu Shih-ch'ang, then the president, order the arrest of Liang Shih-i, Yeh Kung-cho, and Chang Hu (the finance minister under Liang) because they had the support of Chang Tso-lin. Hsu Shih-ch'ang had to issue the orders, and Chou Tzu-ch'i, as premier, had to countersign them. Chou, a close political ally of the three men, was greatly embarrassed. He communicated privately with Liang, tendered his apologies, and told Liang to leave at once. Liang Shih-i reportedly was rather amused that Chou, his close colleague, should now sign an order for his arrest. Later, shortly before he died, Chou Tzu-ch'i asked a friend to tell Liang Shih-i that countersigning the order for Liang's arrest was the only act of his entire life that he regretted. Chou resigned in June 1922 when Hsu Shih-ch'ang was forced into retirement by the Chihli clique and Li Yuan-hung was restored to the presidency. After relinquishing the acting premiership, Chou was given a sinecure position as a member of the commission for financial reorganization. However, he decided to retire from politics, and he left China to tour the United States.
In the United States, Chou became interested in the motion picture industry. After returning to China, he organized the Peacock Motion Picture Corporation, which was to distribute foreign films and produce Chinese films. Before he could implement his plans, Chou became ill. He died in Shanghai in October 1923.