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US missionary a key figure in Wukang Road’s history
By Michelle Qiao

MOST streets in the former French concession were named after prominent Frenchmen, but Route de Ferguson (Wukang Road) was an exception.

The name came from American missionary John Calvin Ferguson, who built the road to make it convenient for the Nanyang Public School (now Jiao Tong University) faculty to travel from their downtown homes to the campus, according to the 1924 book “A Comprehensive View of Shanghai Anecdotes.”

“It wasn’t just because Ferguson invested the money for the road,” says Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao, co-author of the book “Shanghai Wukang Road.” “More importantly, he was an important figure in modern Chinese history. He had done a terrific job promoting cultural and political links between China and Western countries.”

Born in Canada in 1866, Ferguson later moved to the United States with his family. His father was a Methodist minister. He graduated from Boston University in 1885. One year later he was sent to China with his new wife as a missionary and ended up staying 57 years.

They arrived in Shanghai on October 25, 1887, went to Zhenjiang of Jiangsu Province to study Chinese and one year later moved to Nanjing as a missionary. There he helped missioner C. H. Fowler from the Methodist Episcopal Church found Nanking University, which was one of the earliest universities in China.

As president of the university from 1888 to 1897, Ferguson followed a Western education model and employed American teachers. He also supervised the construction of the first campus building, a beautiful bell tower, which still stands on the campus of today’s Nanjing Jinling Middle School — where I had studied for six years. The bell tower is listed as a national historical building.

In 1897, he was offered a job by a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) minister to help found Nanyang Public School in Shanghai. To facilitate faculty and students getting to and from the school, he used his own money to fund construction of today’s Wukang Road, which runs from current Changshu Road to Tianping Road.

“Most professors employed by Ferguson lived in the former international settlement in the downtown and would hire a rickshaw on today’s Changshu Road, where they switched to a carriage to get to the university,” Qian says.

Ferguson also designed two signature buildings at Nanyang Public School. One of them, the Middle School Building, still stands today on the campus of Jiao Tong University. In addition, he purchased and successfully managed the Chinese newspaper, Sin Wan Bao, for 30 years.

In 1902, he returned to Boston University to study for a PhD, for which his dissertation was “The Confucian Renaissance in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).” He returned to live in Beijing in 1919 and acted as an advisor for the Kuomintang government after 1927.

Ferguson had also been one of the earliest Western scholars to collect Chinese art. He was the only foreign council member of a committee to catalog the imperial palace’s art collection after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

His two pioneering indexes of writings on Chinese art in the 1930s — one for paintings and the other for bronzes — were basic references for the next generation of scholars. Taking advantage of his knowledge and connections, he had also helped the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquire Chinese artworks.

In 1934, Ferguson donated much of his own collection, including bronzes, scrolls, paintings and jade items to Nanking University. He stayed in Beijing until the end of 1943. He died in the US in 1945 at the age of 79.

“Ferguson had spent the most important 57 years of his life in China. He was a missioner, educator, newspaper tycoon, governmental advisor, philanthropist and antique expert,” Qian says. “He had a positive influence on the political and academic circles in modern China and also contributed to spreading Chinese culture abroad.”


An archive photo of the Middle School Building Ferguson designerd for Nanyang Public School. It still stands in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University.- From the book "Glorious Footmarks - 110th Anniversary of Xi'an Jiaotong University"


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