Spring 2009 Vol. 29 - No. 152 Lou Tseng-Tsiang and His Contribution to China

Lou Tseng-Tsiang (1871-1949) and Sino-Vatican Diplomatic Relations
Sergio Ticozzi, PIME 

        January 15, 2009 marked the 60th anniversary of the death of John James Lou Tseng-Tsiang (Lu Zhengxiang[1] 陸徵祥), then a Benedictine abbot with the name of Dom Pierre Celestin Lou. He played a meaningful role in the modern political history of China, especially concerning China’s contacts with the Vatican. In his memoirs “Souvenirs et Pens?es”, Lou Tseng-Tsiang summarized his attempts, as China’s Foreign Minister, to establish diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See in the following way:

Since joining the Government, convinced of the superior importance of the spiritual values and of the support that they represent for the countries which keep them in high esteem, I tried to obtain for the Chinese Republic the cooperation of the Catholic Church, whose life and work I had observed for a long time, and of which I had become a member. Given a proper occasion, with the agreement of the Cabinet of Ministers, I asked the Vicar Apostolic [of Beijing] to officially sing a Te Deum in order that Almighty God might bestow His blessings upon the country of China. Such a ceremony was an unprecedented innovation. It took place in the North Cathedral [Beitang] in the presence of the diplomatic body. The aim was to publicly give a spiritual boost to relations between the Chinese state and the religion of Jesus Christ, that is, with the Catholic Church. In my mind, such an act was only a beginning. 

In 1917, the opportunity to proceed further was offered to me. I proposed that the Government reach an agreement with the Holy See in order to establish diplomatic relations between the Republic and the Holy See. And since such a proposal was accepted, I started contacts with the Vatican, who at once gave their consent… The intervention and the systematic opposition of a great European power, that declared that it was acting to ‘protect’ the Missions, forced us to give up the project... The project had to wait until February 1943, more than a quarter of a century later, to be achieved…”[2]

        How could Lou Tseng-Tsiang manage to carry out these initiatives? The explanation can be found from two sources, namely from his own leading government post at the time, and from the political context of the relationship between the Chinese Government and the Catholic Church. The purpose of this paper is to provide further details about this twofold issue.

The political career of Lou Tseng-Tsiang

        From November 30, 1917 to August 13, 1920, Lou was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China. He reached that position through his career as a diplomat.

        He was born in Shanghai on June 12, 1871, and was baptized in a Protestant Church, since his father was a Protestant catechist. He attended the School of Foreign Languages in Shanghai, specializing in French. He continued his education, and graduated in 1872 from the Tong-Wen College in Beijing, which was a school for interpreters attached to the Foreign Ministry. In the following year, he was posted to St. Petersburg, Russia, as interpreter to the Chinese Legation (until 1906). At that time the international diplomatic language was French, but Lou gained fluency in Russian also. The ambassador, the reform-minded Xu Jingcheng (Hs? Ching-ch'eng, 徐敬成, 1845-1900), took a strong interest in his career and trained him as a diplomat. Lou came to consider him as a second father. On February 12, 1899, he married a Belgian lady, Miss Berthe Fran?oise-Eug?nie Bovy, from Brussels. In 1905 he was promoted counselor to the Belgian Delegation. In 1906 he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary at The Hague, becoming the Delegation Chief the following year. In 1911 he was sent as Minister Plenipotentiary back to St. Petersburg. On November 22, 1911, he joined the Catholic Church.

        At the proclamation of the Chinese Republic in 1912, he sided with the Republicans, and served as Foreign Minister in the provisional government under President Yuan Shikai (袁世凱, 1859-1916), from March 1912 to September 1912. In August and September, he also served as Prime Minister, but his lack of political clout forced him to resign from both posts. However he was soon recalled to the cabinet as Foreign Minister from November 1912 to September 1913, with the duty to reform and update the Foreign Ministry. He abolished the complicated bureaucracy of imperial commissions, required knowledge of foreign languages at all levels, and instituted modern civil service examinations for recruits. He managed to avoid being identified with any particular faction within the new government. But this relative political isolation meant that he was little able to influence policy, and he again resigned. In 1914 he became chief of the Chinese Extraordinary Mission in France and Belgium.

        From January 27, 1915 to May 17, 1916, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for a third time, in the “northern” government in Beijing, which enjoyed international recognition. During this time he undertook difficult negotiations with Japan and Russia. He became Foreign Minister for the fourth time in November 1917, and stayed in office until August 1920.[3] 

The context of relations between the Holy See and the Chinese Government [4]

        Despite the negative consequences of the Rites Controversy, from 1720 to 1810 a Vice-Procurator of the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith resided in Beijing, and could mediate to a certain degree with the Chinese authorities. But due to an increase in persecution, he was forced to leave the capital. From the middle of the 19th century, France and England in particular, following their military victories, forced upon China unequal treaties. Among other things, the treaties granted the right to protect the missionary work and the properties of the Christian Churches and of all their members, both foreign and local, to the foreign powers. Such a French ‘protection’ for the Catholic missions was generally most welcomed by the French Vicars Apostolic. However, it soon gave rise to several complaints, mainly from Vicars of other nationalities, and showed a veiled dissatisfaction with the Chinese authorities.

        In such a context, the need for more direct contact between the Holy See and the Qing Government was felt. The initiative was taken by the Holy See, also with the view of getting a general assessment of the Missions in China. The Pope planned an Apostolic Visit of all China Missions, and appointed Bishop Luigi Celestino Spelta to carry it out within the two-year period, 1860-1862. The Holy Father also gave Papal Legate Spelta a letter for the Chinese Emperor Xianfeng (咸豐, 1831-1861, r. 1850-1861). The letter stated:

“We frankly want to manifest our good will towards You, and, We desire strongly, to make possible the establishment of an entente between You and Us… We wholeheartedly beg Your Imperial Majesty to give protection to all the Catholics who live in the immense areas of Your Empire, as well as to all the evangelical workers, i.e., European missionaries, so that the Catholic faith can be freely preached in those regions.”[5]

        The purpose of the letter was to establish a kind of convention[6] with the Chinese authorities. But unfortunately, due to the death of the Emperor Xianfeng (in 1861) and the sickness and early death of Mgr. Spelta (in 1862), the letter most likely did not reach its destination.

        The following years saw the situation worsening, with the Beijing Memorandum in 1860 and the tragedy of Tianjin in 1870. However after a few years, some calm returned to the mission scene. In early 1882, the former Hong Kong Governor, Sir Pope Hennessy, informed Propaganda by letter that in the autumn of 1881 the senior Grand Secretary Li Hongzhang (李鴻章, 1823-1901), then Viceroy of Zhili and in charge of Foreign Affairs for the Chinese Empire, had asked him to report to the Holy See on the situation of the Catholics in China. Foreign Minister Li expressed the desire that direct diplomatic relations be established between the Holy See and the Chinese Empire through the exchange of representatives. Unfortunately the negotiations were not carried forward.[7]

        After the rise of a new wave of persecution especially in South China due to the war between France and China over Tonkin (1884-1885), Pope Leo XIII, moved by the pitiful situation of the Catholics, decided to send a message to the Chinese Emperor Guangxu (光?, 1875-1908). In 1885, he entrusted Fr. Francesco Giulianelli (1831-1898), of the Pontifical Seminary of SS. Peter and Paul in Rome, with his personal message to the Qing Court, dated January 1, 1885. The Holy Father asked the Emperor for his benevolence and protection for all missionaries and Catholics of all nationalities, without any regard for political considerations. The letter was handed to the Foreign Ministry Office (Zhongli Yamen, 總理衙門) on April 8, 1885. The same Office gave an answer to the Pope on behalf of the Emperor, dated April 10, 1885, which Fr. Giulianelli personally brought back to Rome.[8]

        Following this exchange, Li Hongzhang took further initiatives[9] towards establishing diplomatic relations with the Holy See. On June 8, 1885, he summoned an Irish Catholic, Mr. George Dunn, who was working in the Tianjin Customs Office, and told him that the Emperor had received with great pleasure the Letter of the Holy Father. Minister Li also said that the Imperial Government was willing to provide better conditions for the Catholic Missions in China, and he proposed the establishment of regular diplomatic relations with the Holy See, through an exchange of representatives. Mr. Dunn reported the content of the meeting to the Vicar Apostolic of Beijing, the French Lazarist Mgr. Francois F. Tagliabue (1822-1890). The English secretary of the Chinese Legation in London was also informed. He spoke about it to Card. Henry E. Manning (1808-1892) of London. In August 1885, Cardinal Manning, in turn, wrote to the Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Ludovico Jacobini (1832-1887) about the proposal of the Chinese authorities. He made reference to previous initiatives, and underlined the positive effects of the present proposal. Meanwhile Mr. Dunn, in January 1886, reached Rome, and handed the letter of Li Hongzhang, dated November 7, 1885, to the Secretary of State. In the letter Minister Li had officially accredited Mr. Dunn to deal with the matter of diplomatic relations.

        Pope Leo XIII received Mr. Dunn on February 4, 1886. Later, Mr. Dunn also discussed the subject of relations with the Prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda, Card. Giovanni Simeoni (1816-1892). Meanwhile, Card. Jacobini organized three meetings of all the people concerned to discuss the matter. The result was that, on August 4, 1886, Mgr. Antonio Agliardi (1832-1915, Cardinal in 1896), Apostolic Delegate in India, was accredited to the Court in Beijing. On the following day, the L’Osservatore Romano pointed out that the Chinese Government requested that the Pope’s representative enjoy all kinds of authority to work effectively, “since it is absurd that the action of France in China should be considered exclusive or limitative of the authority of the Holy See, which enjoys the basic right to represent and protect its religious interests.”[10]

        As soon as the news about the negotiations was circulated abroad, the French ambassador to the Holy See, Count Edouard A. Lefebvre de B?haine (1821-1897), together with the head of the French Government, Charles de Freycinet (1828-1920), strongly protested to the Holy See, saying that such a decision was an usurpation of the French right of patronage over the Catholic Church in China. On August 12, 1886, France threatened to sever diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

        Due to the stubbornness of the French Government, Leo XIII decided to send Mgr. Agliardi to China as an Extraordinary Delegate, simply to gather information on the situation of the Church and of the Catholics in China. However, France also opposed even this mission of Mgr. Agliardi. France again threatened to break diplomatic relations and to retaliate against the Catholics of France. French public opinion, and even prominent ecclesiastical figures, lobbied Pope Leo XIII against the initiative. Thus in September 1886, the Holy See notified George Dunn that the plan had to be abandoned, as being untimely. The Chinese authorities also expressed regret to Rome through an October 6, 1886 letter of Mr. Dunn.

        Towards the end of 1888, the Holy See asked the Apostolic Vicar of Beijing, the French Lazarist Mgr. Tagliabue, to write a precise and impartial report on the advantages and disadvantages of having a Papal Nuncio in Beijing. On December 3, 1888, the Bishop submitted a long report, which, due to its lack of any positive view of China, of the Chinese authorities, and of the project of the Holy See, seemed to have as its aim the prevention of an assignment of a representative of the Holy See to Beijing. At the end of the report, in fact, Mgr. Tagliabue begged the Holy Father to continue to entrust to France the protection of the Catholic Missions in China.[11]

        Li Hongzhang was unhappy about the failure of the project and in September 1890, through the German SVD bishop Johann B. Anzer (1851-1903), who was returning to Europe, sent a letter to Card. Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro (1843-1913), the Vatican Secretary of State (from 1887 to 1903). Cardinal Rampolla handed his answer to the same person. Although there were no direct results, the correspondence showed good will on both sides, and it led to future exchanges through conventional contacts in 1891, 1892 and 1899.

        Meanwhile, on October 7, 1891, Card. Rampolla, on behalf of Pope Leo XIII, wrote to the apostolic Nuncio in Paris, Mgr. Domenico Ferrata (1847-1914, Cardinal in 1896), saying that the Holy Father had become aware of some serious incidents that were threatening the Catholic Missions in China, as well as of the willingness of China to set up relations with the Holy See, had decided to send a special messenger to the Chinese Emperor, to solicit his protection for the Church. The French Government remained stubborn in its refusal. The answer of Mgr. Ferrata, dated October 14, 1891, reads: “The Foreign Minister Ribot[12] considers the sending of a special Legate of the Holy See to Peking inopportune and dangerous at the present time…”

        In the meantime, Card. Rampolla, through the French Lazarist Mgr. Pierre M. Alphonse Favier[13] (1837-1905), then vicar general of Beijing Diocese, inquired of the Chinese authorities their opinions on the issues of sending a confidential legate of the Holy Father to Beijing and of setting up the Catholic Hierarchy in China. The answer in January 1892 was that the Chinese authorities agreed on both counts. They even proposed carrying out negotiations leading to the establishment of diplomatic relations, without considering the French position. However, the Holy See considered it not convenient.

        In 1895, on the occasion of the 60th birthday of the Empress Dowager Tz’u-Hsi (Cixi 慈禧, 1835-1908), the Holy See asked the Vicar Apostolic of Beijing, Mgr. John Baptist H. Sarthou (1840-1899, French Lazarist), to pass on the Holy Father’s good wishes to her. On March 2, 1900, Pope Leo XIII’s 90th birthday, the Empress Dowager and the Foreign Ministry sent him their good wishes.

        All these initiatives gradually created a good climate of contacts between the Holy See and the Chinese Government, both of whom were convinced of the need to set up direct relations between them. The disorders and the revolutionary outbursts that gradually led to the downfall of the Qing Empire in 1911, delayed further developments from these contacts. 

Lou Tseng-Tsiang’s attempt at establishing diplomatic relations

        In the early days of the Republic, due to the favorable context of both sides seeing the need to establish more direct contacts between themselves, the Foreign Minister of the new Chinese Republic, Lou Tseng-Tsiang, dared to take up his two main initiatives: namely, prayers for blessings on the country, with the singing of Te Deum in the North Cathedral in Beijing, as well as making a further attempt to establish diplomatic relations, in order to end a regrettable situation.

        Lou Tseng-Tsiang described the first initiative as “an unprecedented innovation.” It took place in April 1913, during his second period as Foreign Minister, on the day when the new Chinese Parliament was convening. On that occasion all Christians were invited to pray in their churches and to ask for a heavenly blessing upon the country and their leaders. The request and the event made headlines in Western newspapers, and received favorable attention even from the American president and his cabinet.

“The Christian Herald compared Yuan Shikai’s action to Costantine’s and Charlemagne’s in subjecting pagan nations to the yoke of Christ.”[14]

        A 'veteran diplomat', however, published a more skeptical comment on September 7, 1913:

“When some months ago, a dramatic request was made from China by the ministers of the Republican Government there for the united prayers of Christendom on a special Sunday, the clergy on both sides of the Atlantic became convinced that the Republic in Peking had at length come to the conclusion that Christianity was the only means of welfare, both here on earth and in the hereafter, and they offered up prayers for the spiritual enlightenment of what was formerly the Celestial Empire.”[15]

        The intention of Lou was not so ambitious, but more realistic. He explained it as:

“Publicly providing a new spirit to the relationship between the Chinese State and the religion of Jesus Christ, and with the Catholic Church.”

        The atmosphere, indeed, became more friendly. In August 1914, the College of Cardinals charged Mgr. Stanislas F. Jarlin (1856-1933), the French Lazarist Vicar Apostolic of Beijing (since 1905), to announce to the President of the Chinese Republic, Yuan Shikai, the news of the death of Pope Pius X. A meaningful gesture followed on November 30, 1914. The President of the Republic, accepted in a solemn ceremony like that of the presentation of diplomatic credentials, the autographical letter of the new Pope, Benedict XV, who was informing the President of his recent election. Mgr. Jarlin handed the letter personally to President Yuan, in the Presidential Palace. On December 28, 1914, the President returned his answer to Mgr. Jarlin, who then forwarded it to the Holy Father.[16]

        At this time, dissatisfaction with the French protectorate over the Catholic Missions was spreading rapidly in China, under the instigation of Fr. Vincent Lebbe (1877-1940) of Tianjin. It was combined with proposals for the reform of evangelization methods, which would provide a greater role for the local clergy, greater respect for Chinese culture and accommodation for the patriotic feelings of Chinese Catholics.

        Unfortunately World War I broke out, ending hopes of reform for the time being. Consequently, the second initiative of Lou as Foreign Minister could only be taken up in 1917, when he again approached the Holy See, with a proposal for mutual diplomatic recognition. The negotiations were delayed by China’s participation in the war. Lou continued his efforts again in the spring 1918, through the mediation of the representative of the Principality of Monaco at the Vatican.

        On July 12, 1918, the Holy See officially appointed Archbishop Giuseppe Petrelli (1873-1962), Apostolic Delegate in Manila, to be its representative in China. On July 17 the Chinese government appointed its plenipotentiary minister to Spain and Portugal, Tai Chen-Lin (Dai Chenlin戴陳霖, 1872-1960), to represent his government also at the Vatican. The news of the establishment of diplomatic relations became public when L’Osservatore Romano published it on July 11, 1918. The announcement underlined the essentially religious nature of the office of the Catholic representative, without revealing his name.

        However, the French Government of Georges Clemenceau[17] (1841-1929), on July 31, 1918, showed its absolute opposition to the decision, denouncing it as a violation of the French patronage over Catholic missions, and threatening to stop all negotiations with the Vatican to re-establish diplomatic relations, since France severed them on December 9, 1905. Mgr. Petrelli was accused of being a German-supporter. The Holy See, although denying the accusation, decided to substitute him with Mgr. Pietro Pisani (1871-1960). France, however, was not satisfied with Mgr Pisani either.

        During the conflict, Clemenceau quoted article 13 of the Sino-French Treaty of 1858, claiming all rights to oppose the above decision, which was considered ‘clearly inimical’ to France. The response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, dated August 6, 1918, was measured and precise:

“Among all the evidence, the June 27, 1858 Treaty does not recognize any special rights of France.” Its article 13 is identical to article 15 of the Sino-Belgian Treaty of 1865. Besides, the French Government is acting in flagrant opposition with the ‘religious patronage’ it claims for itself. Moreover, ‘after the start of the war’ China is not the only country which has established diplomatic relations with the Holy See: “Great Britain has acted along the same line.”

        China maintained all its rights, and expressed the regret that “France will simply be despised”.[18]

        France not only continued its blind opposition and accusations, but also undertook ambiguous maneuvering within the Beijing Government itself. This was so insistent that the latter was forced to postpone the matter of the exchange of representatives. The conflict, with the polemics involved, had a great effect on the majority of Chinese Catholics. 


        Almost forty years later, Dom Pierre Celestin Lou, due to his Chinese politeness and Benedictine formation, expressed his mild judgment of the events. We have already quoted his opinion above:

“The intervention and the systematic opposition of a great European power… forced us to give up the project, Though so simple and normal, it had to wait until February 1943, more that a quarter of a century afterwards, to be achieved.”

        And in La Rencontre des Humanit?s, his last work written in 1948 but published after his death, he put his past negative experiences into a larger perspective:

“My thoughts can be summarized in few words: the problem of international relations is not, primarily, of a political order, but, first of all, they are of an intellectual and moral nature. At its foundation, it is a problem of ties and divisions, which are established among human beings, of similarities and differences that unite or separate their civilizations, of closeness and diversity among human communities which are the corner stones of each civilization; the fusion of intellectual, moral and spiritual forces, which both Confucian and Christian, both Chinese and Greco-Latin civilizations possess, could constitute a universal power that is peaceful, totally new and absolutely invincible.”[19]

        This is very suitable advice even for today’s situation.

Endnote :

  1. The Romanization of the name that he himself used was Lou Tseng-Tsiang: this is the reason why it is used here.
  2. Souvenirs et Pens?es (Paris, D?scl?e del Brouwer, 1945), Ricordi e Pensieri (Brescia: Morcelliania, 1947), pp. 105-106 (my English translation).
  3. He led the Chinese delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (from November 1918 to December 1919). He refused, however, to sign the Treaty of Versailles because Article 156 transferred the former German territory in Shandong to Japan, rather than returning it to the sovereignty of China. China was the only participating country not to sign the treaty. In 1923 he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary at Berne in Switzerland. On April 16, 1926, his beloved wife Berthe Bovy died. On October 4, 1927, he entered the Abbey of St. Andr?-lez-Bruges. On January 15, 1929, he made his religious profession. On June 29, 1935, Mgr. Celso Costantini ordained him a priest. In 1943 he published Souvenirs et Pens?es. On May 16, 1946, Pope Pius XII appointed him abbot of the Abbey of St. Pierre de Gand. He piously passed away there on January 15, 1949. In 1948 he wrote La Rencontre des Humanit?s, which was published after his death.
  4. Basic Bibliography: LO Kuang, 教廷與中國使節史 (A History of Vatican Diplomatic Relations with China), (Taipei, Kuangchi Press, 1961); Louis WEI Tsing-sing, La Politique Missionarie de la France en Chine: 1842-1856, Paris, p. 531; L. WEI, Le Saint-Siege et la Chine (Paris, Editions A. Allais, 1968), pp. 83-84; Fortunato MARGIOTTI, “La Cina cattolica al traguardo della maturit?” in Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fide Memoria Rerurm (Heider, Rom-Freiburg-Wien, 1976), vol. III-1, pp. 508-540; Angelica AMBROSI, I Rapporti Diplomatici tra la Santa Sede e la Cina, 1850-1951 (Roma, Lateran University Press, 2003).
  5. See the Latin text of the Letter in Noel GUBBELS, OFM, Trois Si?cles d’apostolat, Histoire du Catholicisme au Hu-kwang depuis les origins 1587 jusqu’a 1870, pp. 368-370, note; and see the French translation in L. Wei Tsing-sing, La Politique Missionarie de la France en Chine: 1842-1856, Paris, p. 531.
  6. SCPF Archive, Acta vol. 223 (1859), f. 597-599: “… The Holy Father has entrusted to Mgr. Spelta to arrange a convention with the Chinese Government, which could protect all the Catholics in China”.
  7. SCPF Archives, Acta, vol. 255, f. 354-355.
  8. SCPF Archives, Acta vol. 255, f. 356-358. See the report of the Mission of Fr. Giulianelli, written by himself, in Vatican Secret Archives, Spoglio Leo XIII, Foreign States Miscellanea, China, IX, published also by Carlo Cattaneo, “Le ‘Missione Giulianelli’ e le ‘Osservazioni’ di Mons. Timoleone Raimondi. Due Tentativi per superare i nazionalismi”, in La Scuola Cattolica, n. 130, 2002, pp. 406-414, and by Gianni Criveller, “China, the Holy See and France, The Giulianelli Mission to the Chinese Emperor and Its Aftermath (1885-1886), in AAVV, The Boxer Movement and Christianity in China (Taipei, Fujen University Press, 2004); see also the report by Fr. Enrico Scalzi, who accompanied Fr. Giulianelli, in Il Missionario Cattolico, XIII, 2, February 20, 1915, pp. 24-32.
  9. See the general report of the following events in SCPF Archives, Acta vol. 255, f. 314-384.
  10. “La Santa Sede, La Francia e la Cina”, in L’Osservatore Romano, August 5, 1886, p. 2.
  11. Angelica AMBROSI, I Rapporti Diplomatici tra la Santa Sede e la Cina, op. cit., pp. 43-44.
  12. Alexandre Felix Joseph Ribot (1842-1923) served as French Foreign Affairs Minister for two years from 1890-1892.
  13. He was appointed Bishop Coadjutor in 1897, succeeding as Vicar Apostolic of Beijing in 1899.
  14. Quoted in Jonathan D. SPENCE, The Search for Modern China (New York – London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1990), p. 283.
  15. See the full article in “Holy Duke as Monarch may end Chinese Republic; Yuan Shih-kai, the Present Dictator and Provisional President, is thought to be planning to place a Descendant of Confucius on the throne as a Solution of the Present Troubles.”
  16. See the account of the ceremony, in Il Missionario Cattolico, XIII, 2, February 29, 1915, pp. 21-23.
  17. Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929): after medical and journalistic careers, he entered politics, and in 1902 was elected senator; in 1906 he became minister of the interior, and then premier until 1909. He became prime minister again from November 1917 to 1920. He was known for his strong anti-German stance.
  18. See Edmond NEUT, Jean Jacques Lou - Dom Lou (Bruxelles, Edition ‘Syntheses’, 1942), p. 27.
  19. La Rencontre des Humanit?s (Bruges: Descl?e de Brouwer, 1949): my translation from the French.

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