John Leighton Stuart, an American Considering Himself More of a Chinese

John Leighton Stuart who was American by nationality actually considered himself Chinese. He was born and raised in Hangzhou where his father and mother were both leading missionaries. The Stuarts, an eminent Presbyterian missionary family, arrived in China in 1868 and made a great contribution to Sino-American Cultural and spiritual communications. John Linton Stuart, Leighton’s father, is one of the first three ministers to have been sent to China by the Presbyterian Church in the United States where he spent forty years as a leading missionary in Hangzhou. Leighton’s mother, known affectionately as ‘Mother Stuart’ in Hangzhou, founded the Hangzhou School for Girls, one of the first institutions of its kind in China. John Leighton Stuart had three brothers, the youngest died at an early age and the other two were also missionaries in China.

John Leighton Stuart (the third from the left) and his parents and brothers

John Leighton Stuart, one of the ‘West Lake Celebrities’, is closely connected with China, especially Hangzhou and its West Lake. He was born near the West Lake and spent his first 11 years in Hangzhou where he learned to speak the local dialect fluently. In 1946 he was declared Honorary Citizen of Hangzhou, the only foreigner to have been granted this title along with his only son Jack who was also born in Hangzhou.

John Leighton Stuart spent 50 years in China, of which 14 were devoted to Hangzhou. He showed great love to Hangzhou, which can be seen in his memoirs Fifty Years in China. In the book he describes the Hangzhou dialect as “unique in all of China...” “It seems to me to have a musical lilt and expressiveness lacking in all others ...” He loved West Lake, “Hangchow is one of the most historic and beautiful cities in all china. The environs of the city, with the exquisitely lovely West Lake encircled literally by 'temple hills' ... have long been famous in Chinese literature and art.” "... the unusually graceful pagodas around West Lake at Hangchow, and the location of temples in beautiful natural surroundings ... ", “I have fairly vivid and colorful memories of … riding in sedan chairs of pleasure boats on the West Lake ...”, “I remember excursions to the scenic spots of Hangchow, picnic lunches, hunting for wild strawberries, the hills ablaze with azaleas in the spring, summering in a dank old temple on a hilltop ...”

Statue of John Leighton Stuart Erected in its Former Residence

So that West Lake would accompany them forever, John Leighton and his family were all buried in cemeteries near to the West Lake.