Shanghai World Expo 2010>Culture
UPDATED: June 23, 2010 Web Exclusive
For Light and Truth
The past and present of St. John's University in Shanghai


Everyone can name a few majors that universities in Shanghai are famous for: journalism at Fudan University, architecture at Tongji University, Chinese language and literature at East China Normal University, economics at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, and the medical school at Shanghai No. 2 Medical University (now part of Jiaotong University). The list goes on. However, few people know why they are popular. "Tradition" is a concise answer, but it's too generic. Where does this "tradition" come from? It began at St. John's University.

St. John's University was one of the 14 religious universities in China before the founding of the People's Republic of China in October 1949. The university was founded in 1879 as "St. John's College" by Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, the Anglican Bishop of Shanghai, by combining two preexisting Anglican colleges.

In 1879, St. John's began with 39 students, who were taught mainly in Chinese. Gradually, more college courses were added. In 1896, St. John's underwent a reform and in 1905, it gained university status and was allowed to confer bachelor's degrees. It then started to expand the number of registered students and set up various schools, including arts, science, medicine and theology. In 1913, a graduate school was added. The university started to enroll female students in 1936. St. John's became a renowned university not only in Shanghai, but also in China. Up until 1947, the university applied to register with the then Chinese Government and received approval.

There are two major events in the history of St. John's. After the May 30th Massacre in 1925, some teachers and students left the university to form Guanghua University (presently known as Donghua University on West Yan'an Road). On August 13, 1937, St. John's, together with three other schools -- Shanghai University, Soo Chow University and Hangchow Christian College -- formed Shanghai United Christian University, following the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) on July 7.

In the history of St. John's University, one name that comes up again and again is that of President F.L. Hawks Pott. He was an American born in 1864. He graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor's degree in theology. Later, he received honorary degrees from Trinity College, Edinburgh University and Columbia University. He came to China as a clergyman of the American Anglican Church and then started teaching English at St. John's in 1881. In 1886, he became president. He stayed at the school for 52 years and contributed considerably to its development in three main ways. First, he tried his best to get donations to expand St. John's. Every time he spent a holiday in the United States, he took the opportunity to solicit donations. Later, he collected money from alumni or parents, as well as rich and influential locals. Second, St. John's University was the first to use English as its teaching language. Early in 1881, the university established the Department of English. Its intensive training helped its students to have the best English level among all universities in China, which gave its graduates a considerable advantage in their career choices. Third, the university was well managed under Pott's leadership. The environment was kept clean and tidy, the students were asked to obey school rules and regulations, and Pott himself was cautious and frugal in using school money. During his time at St. John's, Pott played an important role in cultural exchange between China and the United States. More impressively, he loved China as his own motherland. He died in Shanghai on March 7, 1947.

St. John's University was internationally renowned as one of the most prestigious and influential universities in China. The university was proudly called "the cradle of diplomats in China" or even "Harvard in the Far East." Today, many of its early students are in important positions in politics, economics, medicine, industry and commerce, including diplomat V.K. Wellington Koo (or Ku Wei-chün), writer Lin Yutang, writer Dong Tingshan, architect I.M. Pei, and Jing Shuping, founder of Mingsheng Bank.

In 1952, St. John's became completely independent of the American Anglican Church. In the same year, the Ministry of Education decided to restructure the departments and faculties of universities and colleges in China. St. John's University thus ended its 73 years of history. The journalism program was incorporated into Fudan University, architecture into Tongji University, economics into the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, politics into the East China University of Politics and Law, Chinese language and culture into East China Normal University, and the medical school into Shanghai No. 2 Medical University, which became the School of Medicine at Shanghai Jiaotong University in 2005.

The East China University of Politics and Law is now located on the former campus of St. John's University. Its address is No. 1575 Wanghangdu Road. The campus still retains some atmosphere of a Western university.

The above will definitely answer the question asked at the beginning of this article. Majors and schools at universities in Shanghai have benefited from this restructuring in the 1950s. Although St. John's University no longer exists, its teaching resources have helped and are still helping educate students who are contributing to society.

During their first world reunion in 1988, St. John's alumni – or Johanneans, as they are known -- vowed to continue and perpetuate the spirit of St. John's by launching new educational initiatives and, if circumstances permit, reestablishing their alma mater. This common vision had previously motivated the founding of the Xinpu Institute of Technology in Taiwan, later called St. John's University of Science and Technology, which laid a good foundation for its further development to become a comprehensive university. This subsequently led to the establishment in 1997 of St. John's College at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Although 131 years have passed since its founding, St. John's University hasn't disappeared. The Johanneans continue to make great contributions to society. Besides, "St. John's University" itself has become a research topic. In the 1920s, St. John's adopted the Western teaching style, which exerted a big influence on society at that time. Its teaching concepts and school management methods are worth studying, especially under today's circumstances when education should be undertaken from an international and global perspective. The original English motto of St. John's is "Light and Truth," while the Chinese motto, taken from Confucius, is "Learning without thinking is labor lost, thinking without learning is perilous." Both expressions are embodied in the emblem of the former university, leading us to further thinking.

Recommended Books

1. F.L. Hawks Pott and His Own Words

Author: Xu Yihua

Publisher: Shanghai Lixin Accounting Publishing House

2. St. John's University in Shanghai (1879-1953)

Author: Xu Yihua

Publisher: Shanghai People's Publishing House

3. History of St. John's University in Shanghai

Author: Shu Xincheng

Publisher: People's Education Press

4. 1927 St. John's University Yearbook

Authors: Mary Lamberton, Wang Dongbo

Publisher: Zhuhai Publishing House

5. Education and Religion – St. John's University, Shanghai as an Evangelising Agency

Author: Xu Yihua

Publisher: Zhuhai Publishing House

6. F.L. Hawks Pott and English Teaching at St. John's University, Shanghai

Authors: Ding Wei, Liu Hailong

Journal: Guangxi Social Science

Websites for Reference







The author is a senior publisher who used to work in Shanghai and now lives in Vancouver, Cananda

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