Reginald Johnston

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Reginald Johnston

Reginald Johnston, Empress Wanrong, and Isabel Ingram in the Forbidden City
Commissioner of Weihaiwei
In office
Preceded byWalter Russell Brown
Personal details
Born(1874-10-13)13 October 1874
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Died6 March 1938(1938-03-06) (aged 63)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Resting placeAshes scattered
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Magdalen College, Oxford
Known forTutor to Puyi, the last emperor of China

Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston, KCMG, CBE (13 October 1874 – 6 March 1938) was a Scottish diplomat who served as the tutor and advisor to Puyi, the last Emperor of China. He was also the last British Administrator of Weihaiwei.

Early Life[edit]

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he studied at University of Edinburgh and later Magdalen College, Oxford.

In 1898, he entered into colonial service and worked in Hong Kong. After initial service in Hong Kong, Johnston was transferred to the British leased territory at Weihaiwei in 1906 on the coast of the Shandong Peninsula as a District Officer, working with Sir James Haldane Stewart Lockhart. Johnston was a keen traveller, in 1902 exploring Tonkin, Laos and Siam. In 1904 he visited Kiautschou, Jinan and later Korea. In January 1906, he undertook a year-long journey from Peking to Mandalay, publishing an account of his experiences in 1908.[1]

Tutor to Puyi, in the Forbidden City[edit]

In 1919, he was appointed tutor of thirteen-year-old Puyi who still lived inside the Forbidden City in Beijing as a non-sovereign monarch.

As the Scottish-born tutor to the Dragon Emperor, Johnston and Isabel Ingram, daughter of an American missionary and the empress's tutor, were the only foreigners in history to be allowed inside the inner court of the Qing Dynasty. Johnston carried high imperial titles and lived in both the Forbidden City and the New Summer Palace.

Johnston met the Ming dynasty Imperial descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace Zhu Yuxun and arranged for him to meet Puyi in the Forbidden City.[2]

After Puyi was expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924, Johnston served as Secretary to the British China Indemnity Commission (1926). In 1927, he was appointed the second civilian Commissioner at Weihaiwei. He ran the territory until it was returned to the Republic of China on 1 October 1930.

After China[edit]

Johnston was appointed Professor of Chinese in the University of London in 1931, a post based at the School of Oriental and African Studies, to which he bequeathed his library in 1935. This library, one of the finest collections of Chinese and East Asian books in the country, consists of over 16,000 volumes. He was not a natural teacher,[citation needed] and hated university administration.

He retained his ties with Puyi, which proved an embarrassment after the former emperor assumed the throne of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

Johnston retired in 1937, having acquired the small island of Eilean Righ in Loch Craignish, Scotland, on which he created for himself a Chinese Garden and flew the flag of Manchukuo.[3] After a short illness, he died in Edinburgh. In his will, he requested that no religious ceremony be conducted. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated. His ashes were scattered on the island of Eilean Righ and surrounding Loch.

He never married but was at one stage engaged to the historian Eileen Power, and was close to author Stella Benson.

Mrs Elizabeth Sparshott, to whom he was engaged at the time leading up to his death, burned many of his letters and other materials, at Johnston's request.[3]

Johnston's book Twilight in the Forbidden City (1934) describes his experiences in Beijing and was used as a source for Bernardo Bertolucci's film dramatization of Puyi's life The Last Emperor. He was portrayed by Peter O'Toole in the film.


  1. ^ Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1908). From Peking to Mandalay: A Journey from North China to Burma Through Tibetan Ssuchʻuan and Yunnan. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. pp. 6–10.
  2. ^ Johnston, Reginald F. (1934), Twilight in the Forbidden City, Cambridge University Press, pp. 349–351, ISBN 1108029655
  3. ^ a b Arnold C. Brackman, The Last Emperor. New York: Scribner's, 1975, p. 206

Further reading[edit]

Published works[edit]

  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1905). Remarks on the Province of Shantung. Cornell University Library. ISBN 978-1-112-55778-1.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1908). From Peking to Mandalay: A Journey from North China to Burma Through Tibetan Ssuch'uan and Yunnan. Soul Care Publishing. ISBN 0-9680459-7-9.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1910). Lion and Dragon in Northern China. Nabu Press. ISBN 978-1-148-73250-3.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1911). A Chinese Appeal to Christendom Concerning Christian Missions. Nabu Press. ISBN 978-1-149-01612-1.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1913). Buddhist China. Soul Care Publishing. ISBN 0-9680459-3-6.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1918). Letters to a Missionary. Cornell University Library. ISBN 978-1-112-04861-6.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1921). The Chinese Drama. Kelly and Walsh. ISBN 978-1481220675.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1934). Twilight in The Forbidden City. Soul Care Publishing. ISBN 0-9680459-5-2.
  • Johnston, Reginald Fleming (1935). Confucianism and Modern China. Soul Care Publishing. ISBN 0-9680459-4-4.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Walter Russell Brown
British Commissioner of Weihaiwei
Weihaiwei returned to China