John Leighton Stuart

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Not to be confused with John Leighton Stewart or John Stewart Leighton.
John Leighton Stuart

John Leighton Stuart (Chinese: 司徒雷登; Pinyin: Sītú Léidēng; June 24, 1876 – 1962) was a missionary educator who became the first President of Yenching University and later United States ambassador to China. He was the last person to hold that position before resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries three decades later.

Early life[edit]

John Leighton Stuart was born in Hangzhou, China, on June 24, 1876, of Presbyterian missionary parents from the United States. His father, John Linton Stuart, was a third-generation Presbyterian minister from a prominent family in Virginia and Kentucky and arrived in China in 1868, one of the first three ministers sent to China by the Presbyterian Church in the United States. His mother, Mary Louisa Horton (known affectionately as "Mother Stuart" in Hangzhou), founded the Hangzhou School for Girls, one of the first institutions of its kind in China. Stuart had three younger brothers, David Todd (1878), Warren Horton (1880) and Robert Kirland (1883).

Although an American by nationality who spoke English with a Southern accent, Stuart considered himself more Chinese than American. He spoke the Hangzhou dialect. At age 11, he left China and stayed for several years with relatives in Mobile, Alabama.[1] At 16, he was sent to school in the U.S. state of Virginia, where his outdated clothing and mid-19th century diction handed down from his missionary parents in China led to his being teased by classmates. He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College and later Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, where he aspired to become a missionary educator.

Missionary and academic[edit]

In 1904, after his marriage, he returned to China with his wife, Aline Rodd, of New Orleans, and became a second-generation missionary in China. Together, they had one child, John L. Stuart Jr., who became a Presbyterian minister also.

In 1908, Stuart became a professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at the Nanking Theological Seminary. During his tenure, he published 'Essentials of New Testament Greek in Chinese' and 'Greek-Chinese-English Dictionary of the New Testament' (1918). His missionary work in China was sponsored by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's church in Washington, D.C., where Stuart preached and visited Wilson in the White House on home leave. Stuart considered himself a Wilsonian idealist, and his family had shared close ties with Wilson's family in Staunton, Virginia, where Stuart's father, John Linton, had been named after Wilson's uncle.

In January 1919, Stuart became the first president of Yenching University. He established physical, financial, and education foundations of the institution. He quickly made the university among the top universities, and the premier Christian institution, in China. He developed the Yenching campus (now home to Beijing University) in traditional Chinese architectural styles, even though many Chinese faculty preferred a campus more western in design. Stuart's hope was that China would one day absorb the institution as its own, rather than view it as an imposition of cultural imperialism. He also served on the Board of Trustees of Tsinghua University. He forged partnerships between Yenching and Harvard University, and helped to create the Harvard-Yenching Institute, an important legacy in cultural exchange, in 1928. He also formed partnerships with Princeton University, Wellesley College, and the University of Missouri. He cared much about students and teachers and their interactions and is remembered fondly by Yenching alumni for hosting an ongoing salon for student intellectuals on campus. Princeton awarded him an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 1933. In 1936, Yenching threw him a 60th birthday banquet, where kitchen and cleaning workers presented him with a plaque to hang above his door that read, "His kindness knows no class boundaries."

Shortly after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Yenching University ceased to exist. In 1952, Peking University relocated to the Yenching campus and absorbed most of its academic departments while other departments were absorbed by Tsinghua University.

Political Activities[edit]

John Leighton Stuart attended National Assembly in 1948

Stuart supported Chinese nationalism. He was sympathetic to students and faculty at Yenching who participated in May Fourth Movement (1919–1921) and May Thirtieth Movement (1925). He favored the Northern Expedition (1926-1927) against the warlord factions in Beijing. He even led a protest with Yenching students against the Japanese invasion in Manchuria (1937). When the invaders overran Beijing in 1937, the Japanese ordered Stuart to fly the puppet regime flag at the Yenching University campus and offer his personal "thanks" to the Japanese military for the institution's "liberation." Stuart, well known among Chinese as a man with a strong moral conscience, declined promptly, sending a terse note to the Japanese commander: "We are refusing to comply with these orders."[2]

He forged ties with the leaders in the Nationalist Party, particularly Chiang Kai-shek, since they both spoke the same Zhejiang dialect, and leaders in the Communist Party, some of whom were graduates of Yenching. He recommended U.S. aid to China during 1937-1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese incarcerated Stuart in Beijing for 3 years and 8 months (December 1941 - August 1945).

His deep involvement with China's politics, education and culture won him respect among Chinese intellectuals and students during the 1930s and 1940s. Even Wen Yiduo, a scholar whom Mao Zedong and the Chinese communists often praised, expressed his respect and admiration for John Leighton Stuart in his famous last speech. Ironically, when Wen Yiduo's last speech was included in Chinese textbooks in Mainland China, the paragraph praising John Leighton Stuart was deleted.[3][4]

U.S. Ambassador to China[edit]

On July 4, 1946, Stuart was appointed the U.S. Ambassador to China and, in this position, worked in concert with General George C. Marshall to mediate between Nationalists and Communists. After Marshall's departure from China in January 1947, he led the mediation efforts that changed from all-out support of the Nationalist government to mediating the coalition government, to negotiating an understanding with the Communist party. When the Nationalist government fled Nanjing, and Communist forces entered the city in April 1949, Stuart maintained the U.S. Embassy in Nanjing. He sought accommodation with the Communist Party in an effort to maintain U.S. presence and influence in China, making contact through a graduate of Yenching University, Huang Hua, who became a member of the Nanjing Military Council.

In recommending constructive engagement as an alternative to the official U.S. policy toward China, "Stuart came to advocate the kind of asymmetrical Cold War response to communism that George F. Kennan envisioned and that Professor John Gaddis described in his 1980 Bernath Prise Lecture to the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations."[5] At the time, however, Washington was unwilling to open a dialogue with Communist China.

In reaction to the State Department White Paper on China, Mao Zedong published a sarcastic article Farewell, Leighton Stuart![6] which included the following:

John Leighton Stuart, who was born in China in 1876, was always a loyal agent of U.S. cultural aggression in China. He started missionary work in China in 1905 and in 1919 president of Yenching University, which was established by the United States in Peking. He has fairly wide social connections and spent many years running missionary schools in China, he once sat in a Japanese gaol during the War of Resistance. On July 11, 1946, he was appointed U.S. ambassador to China. He actively supported the Kuomintang reactionaries in prosecuting the civil war and carried out various political Intrigues against the Chinese people. On August 2, 1949, because all the efforts of U.S. imperialism to obstruct the victory of the Chinese people's revolution had completely failed, Leighton Stuart had to leave China quietly.

Stuart was recalled to the U.S. on August 2, 1949, and formally resigned as Ambassador on November 28, 1952. After suffering a stroke that incapacitated him for the remainder of his life, Stuart died in Washington, D.C. in 1962. His obituary in The New York Times reported, "During his years as a missionary and educator, Dr. Stuart -- gentle mannered and humane -- was one of the most respected Americans in China."[7]

Stuart's memoirs, "Fifty Years in China," were only half completed when he was incapacitated by his stroke. The book was finished and published by officials of the U.S. State Department to advance a hard line, anti-Communist political agenda, and the angry, pugnacious tone of the book's latter chapters betray Stuart's self-effacing modesty and refined manners evident in the first six chapters.

The efforts of George C. Marshall and Stuart to mediate between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party are commemorated in the Zhou Enlai/Deng Yingchao Memorial Hall in Nanjing.

Final Wish[edit]

Stuart specified in his will that he be buried in China, in Beijing, at the Yenching University campus, where his wife was buried following her death in 1926.[8] In November 2008, his ashes were finally taken to China from Washington and buried where his father and mother and a brother were interred, at his birthplace, Hangzhou.[8][8]



  1. ^ Stuart, John Leighton. Fifty Years in China. pp. 15–17. 
  2. ^ "J. Leighton Stuart Dead at 86; Ambassador to China 1946-1949," The New York Times, Sept. 20, 1962.
  3. ^ Why Mr. Wen's Speech was bowdlerized. (In Chinese)[1]
  4. ^ 教科书:删得掉的文字 删不掉的“秘密” Wen Yiduo's original words are"John Leighton Stuart is a friend of Chinese people……an amiable scholar,and he really knows what Chinese people need."In Chinese:“司徒雷登是中国人民的朋友…一位和蔼可亲的学者,真正知道中国人民的要求的。”
  5. ^ The Forgotten Ambassador: The Reports of John Leighton Stuart, 1946-1949, Kenneth W. Rea and John C. Brewer, eds., (Boulder: Westview Press, 1981).
  6. ^ (Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Beijing, Foreign Languages Press 1969; vol. IV, p. 439)
  7. ^ "J. Leighton Stuart, Dead at 86," New York Times, Sept. 20, 1962.
  8. ^ a b c "U.S. diplomats' ashes go home to China." International Herald Tribune. November 19, 2008. Accessed November 19, 2008.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Yu-ming Shaw, An American Missionary in China: John Leighton Stuart and Chinese-American Relations (Cambridge: Council on East Asian Studies Harvard University: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1992).
  • Philip West, Yenching University and Sino-Western Relations, 1916-1952 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976).
  • Charles W. Hayford, "The Ashes of the American Raj in China; John Leighton Stuart, Edgar Snow, and Pearl S. Buck," The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 50-5-08, December 9, 2008 [2].
  • Kenneth W Rea, John C Brewer, ed., John Leighton Stuart: The Forgotten Ambassador: The Reports of John Leighton Stuart, 1946-1949 (Westview Press 1981), ISBN 0-86531-157-9.
  • John Leighton Stuart: Fifty years in China, The memoirs of John Leighton Stuart, missionary and ambassador. (New York: Random House, 1954).
  • John Leighton Stuart, Greek-Chinese-English dictionary of the New Testament (Presbyterian Mission Press 1918).
  • Mao Tse-tung, "Farewell, Leighton Stuart!," In: Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Beijing, Foreign Languages Press 1969), vol. IV, p. 433-440.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Patrick J. Hurley
US Ambassador to China
Succeeded by
Karl L. Rankin