Document Type


Publication Date



The following is an English language translation of a 2008 Chinese language article on John C.H. Wu, Soochow Law School LL.B. 1920 and Michigan Law School, J.D. 1921, by Professor Li Xiuqing of Shanghai's East China University of Political Science and Law. Li is a specialist in Chinese and foreign legal history, with a focus on the transplant of Western and Japanese law into China during the late imperial and modern era. She also serves as the Secretary-General of the China Foreign Legal History Association. In 2006-07, Li was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Michigan Law School, where she followed in the steps of John Wu in researching and writing on early twentieth-century Chinese constitutionalism. John C.H. Wu, one of the giants of post-Imperial Chinese law, philosophy, education, and religion, visited at law schools and universities throughout the United States and Europe-including Paris (1921), Harvard (1923 and 1930) and Northwestern (1929). He engaged in a long correspondence with Justice Holmes between 1921 and 1935, founded Tianhsia Monthly as a bridge between Chinese and Western culture, and served as Vice Chairman of the KMT-era Legislative Yuan's Constitutional Drafting Committee starting in the early 1930s. In fact, he is well-known in China and Taiwan as principle drafter of the 1946 Chinese Constitution, largely based on his June 1933 draft constitution (still described in Chinese as the "Wu draft"). In January 1927, he was appointed by the Jiangsu Provincial Government to sit as a judge on the new "Shanghai Provisional Court," a court with jurisdiction over all controversies in the Shanghai International Settlement, except those cases where the defendants were citizens of the Treaty nations. (As he exulted to Justice Holmes at that time, "I shall try to Holmesianize the Law of China!") He was later promoted to Chief Justice and then President of the same Court. He resigned from the Court in the Fall of 1929 to return to the United States as a Rosenthal Lecturer at Northwestern Law School (Winter 1929) and a research Fellow at the Harvard Law School (Spring 1930). By the Fall of 1930 he had returned to Shanghai, where he practiced law until the Japanese invasion. After 1937 and a period of some turmoil in his personal life Wu rediscovered his early Christian faith, only now as a Catholic and not a Methodist, and went on to an equally rich career as a Catholic intellectual and leader, translating the New Testament and the Psalms into Chinese, and serving as Chinese minister to the Vatican in 1947-48. (He later completed a still popular English translation of Laozi's Taoist classic, the Dao De Jing (Classic of the Way)-see Jingxiong Wu, Tao Teh Ching (New York, 1961)). In February 1949 he returned from Rome to Shanghai and was asked by the Guomindang Prime Minister Sun Fo (Sun Yat-sen's son) and Acting President Li Chung-zen (Chiang Kai-shek having "retired" to his home of Ningbo, prior to his transfer to Taiwan) to be China's Minister of Justice. The appointment was never formalized with the collapse of the Sun Fo cabinet, and in March 1949-after a final, melancholy interview with Chiang Kai-shek at their shared hometown Ningbo-John Wu departed China for the last time. After the 1949 Revolution, he was a long-time professor at the University of Hawaii and Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Readers interested in further English-language information on the Soochow Law School or John Wu's career and life may refer to John C.H. Wu, Beyond East and West (New York, 1951), and William P. Alford and Shen Yuanyuan, "Law is My ldol": John C.H. Wu and the Role of Legality and Spirituality in the Effort to "Modernize" China in Wei-ming Tu, ed., Essays in Honour of Wang Tieya (Cambridge, 1994).


Copyright AALS, Journal of Legal Education, Volume 58, Number 4 (December 2008). Provided for educational and non-commercial purposes only; No modification of copyright notices or docs.