Heidi ROSS and Yuhao CEN

Bishop Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, the founder of St. John’s University in Shanghai in his study in 1902. On his left is his Chinese secretary, Lien; on his right, his Japanese scribe, Bun.

St. John’s University, known as “St. John’s College” until 1905, was one of Shanghai’s first Christian colleges. Founded in 1879 as a secondary school for boys, by the 1920s St. John’s (sheng yuehan daxue) was regarded as one of China’s most prestigious universities and enjoyed the reputation of being the “Harvard of the East.” It has been the site of East China University of Political Science and Law since 1952.

St. John’s University (1879–1952), was one of China’s most prestigious universities prior to the Communist revolution of 1949. St. John’s became China’s first institution to grant the bachelor’s degree in 1907, and exerted great influence on the history of modern China through its educational programs and alumni leaders in the fields of diplomacy, politics, business, education, and medicine. It was divided into several specialized public colleges with the Communist organization of the education system in 1952.

St. John’s founder, Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky (1831–1906), was sent to China by the American Episcopal Church as a missionary in 1859 and was elected bishop of Shanghai Parish in 1876. Bishop Schereschewsky launched a financial campaign for the college in 1877 and raised $26,000 of his $100,000 goal, with a three-year promise of an additional annual $6,000 appropriation from the Board of Missions of the Episcopal Church. The cornerstone of St. John’s first building was laid in the Jessfield suburb of Shanghai on 14 April 1879. St. John’s first pupils, thirty-nine boys transferred from Baird Hall and Duane Hall, two small Episcopal schools, arrived in September.

St. John’s education, guided by the aim of educating outstanding Chinese ministers, was for a decade directed at the secondary level. The majority of students were Christians who were provided with food, clothing, housing, books, and supplies. In October 1881 St. John’s admitted students for the study of English. This move, along with a subsequent decision to teach Western subjects in English, proved of great importance to the development of the institution as well as to the history of China’s Christian colleges. St. John’s became a center for English language study and a lightning rod for arguments about the negative impact of English on the secularization of Christian education, the dilution of missionary educational goals, and the denationalization of Chinese students.

A key turning point in St. John’s history was the arrival in 1886 of Francis Lister Hawks Pott (1864–1947), who would guide the school for fifty-two years and become a leading advocate of Christian higher education in China. Pott was born into a New York Anglican family and graduated from Columbia University in 1883. Pott raised St. John’s standards by establishing entrance examinations in Chinese and English, adding a three-year collegiate course, and securing funds for infrastructure expansion. In 1905, patterned on the structure of Columbia University, St. John’s became a four-year comprehensive university with schools of theology, medicine, and arts and sciences. St. John’s became China’s first institution to grant the bachelor’s degree in 1907 and gradually became known as the school of choice among Shanghai’s affluent merchant families, whose brightest sons could enroll directly into premier U.S. graduate programs.

In 1952 China’s institutions of higher learning were fundamentally reorganized for the Communist era, and St. John’s schools were incorporated or transferred into several specialized public colleges. The campus, designed to harmonize Chinese and Western architectural aesthetics, is now the site of East China University of Political Science and Law. St. John’s is recognized as an institution that exerted great influence on the history of modern China through its educational programs and its many alumni who became leaders in diplomacy, politics, business, education, and medicine.

Further Reading

Chen Kaiyi. (2001). Seeds from the West: St. John’s Medical School, Shanghai, 1880–1952. Chicago: Imprint Publications.

Lamberton, M. (1955). St. John’s University, Shanghai, 1879–1951, histories of the China colleges. New York: United Board for Christian Colleges in China.

Lutz, J. G. (1971). China and the Christian colleges, 1850–1950. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

St. John’s University. (1929). St. John’s University, 1879–1929. Shanghai: Kelley & Walsh.

St. John’s University (Shanghai) Alumni Association. (2008). Retrieved June 6, 2008, from http://www.sjuaa.org

Xu, E. Y. (1994). Religion and education: St. John’s University as an evangelizing agency. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

Yeh Wen-hsin. (1990). The alienated academy: Culture and politics in Republican China, 1919–1937 (Harvard East Asian Monographs No. 148). Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University.

Source: Ross, Heidi, & Cen, Yuhao. (2009). St. John’s University. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2093–2095. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

One of the lecture halls at St. John’s University. FRANK LUSHINGTON, 1908.

St. John’s University (Shèng Yu?hàn Dàxué ?????)|Shèng Yu?hàn Dàxué ????? (St. John’s University)

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