Biographical / Historical
John Calvin Ferguson (1866-1945) was an author, collector and scholar of Chinese art, Methodist minister, university president, and Chinese government advisor, born in Napanee, Ontario.
Ferguson attended Albert College in Ontario, received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1886 from Boston University, and was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church shortly thereafter. He received his PhD from Boston University in 1902. In 1887, he married Mary Elizabeth Wilson (1866-1938) and was sent to China as a Methodist missionary, where he spent his first year studying Chinese in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, downriver from Nanjing on the Yangzi. In Nanjing, Ferguson helped found the Methodist school, Huiwen Shuyuan (later Nanjing University), and worked to establish a western curriculum with departments of liberal arts, medicine, and theology. He was the first president of the university, as well as treasurer and then superintendent of the Central China Mission until 1897, when he left the ministry.
In 1897, Qing official Sheng Xuanhuai (1847-1916) invited Ferguson to become first president of Nanyang College at Shanghai, where he worked for five years before leaving his position to assist Sheng with his governmental duties. Ferguson then became a member of the Treaty Commission and foreign secretary to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce in 1902, and chief secretary of the Imperial Chinese Railway Administration a year later until 1905. Concurrently, he was foreign advisor to the Viceroys of Nanjing and Wuchang. While in Shanghai, he was Honorary Secretary of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and editor of the Journal from 1902 to 1911, then becoming president for a year. During his last year in Shanghai, he was Chairman of the Famine Relief Commission until moving to Beijing in 1911 to become foreign secretary to the Ministry of Posts and Communications. He remained in Beijing after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, becoming active in the Red Cross and subsequently Vice President of the Red Cross Society.
In Shanghai, Ferguson developed a popular Chinese-language daily newspaper in 1899, Sin Wan Pao, which he owned until 1929. He began collecting Chinese art objects while in Nanjing, and studied Chinese art and literature in earnest while in Beijing. In 1912, Ferguson became a buyer of Chinese art objects for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, becoming a fellow in perpetuity and honorary fellow in recognition of his work. He was then wholly launched into the collecting field, becoming a dealer of Chinese art, working between collectors and vendors in Peking for American museums and individuals, as well as developing his own collection. After being appointed advisor to the new Chinese Republican government in 1915, he traveled between the United States and China until setting up permanent residence with his family in Beijing in 1919. During this time in Beijing he wrote and lectured extensively on Chinese art and archaeology. He ultimately donated the bulk of his personal collection, over one thousand Chinese art objects, to Nanjing University in 1934 for which he received an official thanks by public mandate from the Chinese government. Other gifts of his collection were made to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
He remained in his Beijing home until 1943 when he returned to the United States with his daughter, Mary, via the M. S. Gripsholm. He died in Clifton Springs, New York on August 3, 1945.
This biography draws heavily from Lara Jaishree Netting's book, A Perpetual Fire: John C. Ferguson and His Quest for Chinese Art and Culture, Hong Kong University Press, 2013; and R. H. Van Gulik's article, "Dr. John c. Ferguson's 75th Anniversary," Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies of the Catholic University of Peking, Vol. VI, 1941.
Genealogy Chart, Ferguson Family
- John Calvin Ferguson, m. Mary Elizabeth Wilson
- Luther Mitchell, m. Edith Gray
- Helen Matilda
- 1) m. George E. Tucker
- 2) m. John C. Beaumont
- Alice Mary
- Florence Wilson
- 1) m. Jay C. Huston
- 2) m. Raymond C. Mackay
- Charles John, m. Isabel M. Marindin
- Mary Esther
- Robert Mason, m. Margaret Sparr
- Duncan Pomeroy
- Peter Blair, m. Elizabeth Hamlen