Born in Hangchow (Hangzhou), China, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, Stuart attended schools in America from age 11, was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry, and in 1904 traveled with his wife to China, where he taught New Testament studies at Nanking Theological Seminary from 1908 to 1919. He wrote Essentials of New Testament Greek in Chinese and compiled the Greek-Chinese Dictionary of the New Testament. In 1919 he became the first president of Yenching University, created by the merger of Peking University, North China Union College, and the North Women’s College. During his 27 years as president, Yenching became the preeminent private university in China, setting the standard for the other twelve Christian colleges and universities. With ties to Harvard and Princeton, it received generous support from American benefactors for its splendid new campus outside Peking.
During the student anti-Christian movement of the mid-1920s, Stuart refused to move the university into Peking, where it could be protected. Yet, while he supported student patriotism and the need for social change in China, he remained a staunch opponent of revolutionary politics. His first commitment was to Christian higher education. In the 1920s he cultivated friendships with all sides of China’s civil strife. As late as 1948, hoping the university would carry on, he urged accommodation to the Communist government.
Stuart remained with the university in Peking after its capture by the Japanese in 1937 and was interned after Pearl Harbor, refusing an offer of repatriation because others were denied it. He was freed in August 1945 and resumed the university presidency. He capped a long and distinguished career by serving as American ambassador to the Republic of China from 1946 to 1952, recommended for the post by General George C. Marshall, whom he had assisted in his China peace-keeping mission. He returned to the United Sates in 1949 while continuing to hold the post of ambassador.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- John L. Stuart, Fifty Years in China: The Memoirs of John Leighton Stuart, Missionary and Ambassador (1954). Dwight Edwards, Yenching University (1959); Jessie G Lutz, China and the Christian Colleges, 1850-1950 (1971); Yu-ming Shaw, An American Missionary in China: John Leighton Stuart and Chinese-American Relations (1992); Philip West, Yenching University and Sino-Western Relations, 1916-1952 (1976).