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Scottish Mandarin

The Life and Times of Sir Reginald Johnston

Shiona Airlie

Publication Year: 2012

Colonial administrator, writer, explorer, Buddhist, and friend to China’s last emperor, Sir Reginald Johnston (1874-1938) was a distinguished sinologist with a tangled love life that he kept secret even from his closest friends. Born and educated in Edinburgh, he began his career in the colony of Hong Kong and eventually became Commissioner of the remote British leased territory of Weihaiwei in northern China. He travelled widely and, during a break from colonial service, served as tutor and advisor to Puyi, the deposed emperor. As the only foreigner allowed to work in the Forbidden City, he wrote the classic account of the last days of the Qing Dynasty – Twilight in the Forbidden City. Granted unique access to Johnston’s extensive personal papers, once thought to be lost, Shiona Airlie tells the life of a complex and sensitive character whose career made a deep impression on 20th-century China.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Series: Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

Scottish Mandarin: The Life and Times of Sir Reginald Johnston, the seventeenth book in the Royal Asiatic Society’s Hong Kong Studies Series, is the biography of the man who was tutor and advisor to the last Emperor of China. Shiona Airlie guides us along Reginald Johnston’s path and recreates the life of a man...

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pp. xi-xiv

Laying bare the life of Reginald Johnston was a long and arduous journey. It took me from the suburbs of Edinburgh to the far west of China, with some fascinating detours in between. I’ve stood on some of China’s sacred mountains, sat on the rocky shore at Weihai, and plunged into the same sulphur baths that Johnston enjoyed. It has been, from start to finish, simply the most marvellous adventure...

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Notes on Chinese Names

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pp. xv-xvi

By and large—but not exclusively—the Chinese personal names and place names appearing in this book have been rendered in the hanyu pinyin romanization system...

List of Illustrations

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pp. xvii-xx

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Chapter One: The Predictable Path (1874–1898)

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pp. 1-18

In 1919, a thirteen-year-old boy lived in considerable luxury in a walled palace complex in the centre of Beijing. His home was the Forbidden City, and the boy, Puyi, resided there like an emperor, even though China was by then a republic. The Forbidden City was a miniature town like no other in the world...

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Chapter 2: China Beckons (1898–1903)

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pp. 19-34

The Hong Kong in which Johnston arrived on Christmas Day in 1898 was a centre of British imperial might. Barely fifty years earlier, Britain had colonised what had been, until then, little more than a barren island. By the end of the century, it was a bustling commercial...

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Chapter 3: The District Officer (1904–1906)

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pp. 35-54

The territory that took Johnston away from Hong Kong was Weihai. Unlike Hong Kong, Weihai was a fairly recent addition to the British Empire, and had been leased by Britain from China at the same time as the New Territories, in 1898. Situated in Shandong Province, this far-flung outpost of Britain’s empire...

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Chapter 4: Lessons Learned (1906–1907)

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pp. 55-70

Johnston began his journey in January 1906 to explore several of the more remote parts of China. His desire for this type of travel—often solitary and sometimes downright dangerous—had been fuelled by the trip to the Shan States in 1902...

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Chapter 5: Sacred Sites (1907–1909)

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pp. 71-90

Initially, much of Johnston’s time as district officer was spent establishing his authority over the headmen and their villagers: a task that was not without its problems. Barely three months after he moved to Fan Jian Bu, the headmen in his charge sent a list of grievances to Stewart Lockhart, who asked Johnston to investigate...

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Chapter 6: The Daily Grind (1910–1912)

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pp. 91-106

Even when he was writing at a tremendous pace, Johnston could not afford to neglect his official duties. He was extremely conscientious in this respect. No matter how tedious the work, how boring the memoranda which passed before him, he studied everything with great care. His attention to detail was in marked...

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Chapter 7: Unsettled Times (1912–1914)

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pp. 107-124

At the end of the summer of 1912, Johnston moved back to his base in the countryside. Safely settled in Wenchuantang, he worked like a man possessed. Stewart Lockhart was to write with some admiration that Johnston was ‘still as enthusiastic a student as ever’, adding that he was also of immeasurable help in the work of the administration.1 There were few distractions. Heavy rains...

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Chapter 8: The Lowest Point (1915–1918)

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pp. 125-144

Weihai was sufficiently quiet for Johnston to apply for, and be given, a short leave in 1915. Stewart Lockhart pleaded his case to the Colonial Office on the grounds that Johnston had had to return from his last leave early, and also because he had recently been ill. His illness had in fact been so serious that he had...

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Chapter 9: The Forbidden City (1919–1920)

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pp. 145-170

Johnston’s proposed appointment as imperial tutor caused a flurry of activity in British diplomatic circles in both Beijing and London. The British Colonial Office vacillated as to whether or not the posting was a good idea, whereas the Foreign Office was enthusiastic from the outset. They believed there was every chance...

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Chapter 10: Mandarin of the First Rank (1920–1923)

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pp. 171-179

When Johnston left Weihai, Stewart Lockhart obviously missed him badly. If anything, the place seemed to grow sleepier with Johnston’s absence. Consular officers were seconded to assist the commissioner, and the question of Weihai’s rendition once more raised its head during the negotiations at Versailles...

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Chapter 11: The End of a Dream (1924–1926)

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pp. 180-208

With no eunuchs to fight, Puyi turned his attention to a reform of the Imperial Household Department. He already knew something of its excesses. His court was far smaller than in imperial days, yet his annual expenditure figures ‘were higher than they had even been in the time of the empress dowager...

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Chapter 12: Commissioner of Weihai (1927–1930)

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pp. 209-224

Johnston sailed back to China carrying fonder thoughts of Britain than he had done for decades. Perhaps the excitement of the return to Weihai had mellowed him, for he certainly ‘found England a much pleasanter place than I had expected, perhaps because China has recently become so dreadful...

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Chapter 13: Professor Johnston (1930–1935)

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pp. 225-236

Johnston had always hoped that when he left Weihai he would have the opportunity to visit Cherry Glen one last time, but his wish was not granted. Instead, from Shanghai he immediately joined...

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Chapter 14: The Final Fling (1935–1938)

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pp. 237-248

Before he made the journey to Manchuria, Johnston spent his spring and summer holidays at Eilean Righ. In April 1935, one of his guests was Mrs Elizabeth Sparshott, who was making her first visit to the island with her daughter, Jessica. Johnston mentioned to Stewart Lockhart that he was playing host to them, describing Mrs Sparshott...


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pp. 249-272


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pp. 273-280


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pp. 281-294


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p. 295-295

E-ISBN-13: 9789882208919
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139569

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 24 b/w
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies