Scottish Mandarin

The Life and Times of Sir Reginald Johnston


Shiona Airlie

ISBN : 978-988-8139-56-9

History Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies Series (皇家亞洲學會香港研究叢書)

October 2012

332 pages, 6″ x 9″, 24 b&w illus.

  • HK$295.00

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 and family 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 Weihai 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.

Shiona Airlie is the author of Thistle and Bamboo: The Life and Times of Sir James Stewart Lockhart.

“Sir Reginald Johnston—colonial official, scholar, emperor’s tutor—is one of the best known, but also the best hidden of personalities in the history of Anglo-Chinese relations. Now Shiona Airlie, who knows his world intimately, has given us a fascinating and comprehensive biography of this complex and enigmatic man.” —Robert Bickers, author of Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai and The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832–1914

“Superbly researched, Shiona Airlie’s biography reveals the extraordinary character behind the polished exterior of the colonial servant who became tutor to the Last Emperor. A brilliant sinologist, a student of Chinese Buddhism who scorned missionaries, Reginald Johnston was also a romantic Scot and an unwilling professor whose love life may surprise many.” —Frances Wood, author of No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China, 1843–1943

“Reginald Johnston is known to most people merely as the tutor to China’s last emperor, but there was much more to him than this. Through detailed research into primary sources, Shiona Airlie has created an eminently readable account of this complex, often misunderstood, but brilliant man of many parts, and of his outstanding achievements.” —Robert Nield, author of The China Coast: Trade and the First Treaty Ports