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Papers of John Robb Fleming (1910-1999)

Identifier: CSWC 23

Scope and Contents

The collection is in five main sections: (1) items relating to China and (2) to east Asia, (3) general items, (4) photographs and slides, and (5) sound recordings. (1) The China section includes: correspondence and other material on the mission and Church in Manchuria (1940s-1990s) and on Chinese Christians (1970s-1990s); reports, papers and correspondence relating to UK conferences and councils on China, to the Foundation for Theological Education and other Asian Christian organisations, and to visits to China by Fleming and others (1960s-1990s); and cuttings, articles and bulletins on China, the Chinese and Taiwanese Church and human rights (1960s-1980s). (2) The section on east Asia includes correspondence, reports, papers and articles about the mission and the Church, the East Asian Christian Conference and the Malayan Christian Council (1950s-1980s); and material on Korea and human rights (1974-1984). (3) The general section includes articles and lectures by Fleming and others on Christianity and theology in general mainly from his time at St Andrew's (1960s-1980s); papers from the Geneva 1966 World Council of Churches Conference; and general non-official correspondence between Fleming and others (1960-1973). (4) The photographs and slides mainly depict scenes of Chinese life, art and religion but include some early Manchurian pictures and some of Chinese Christians taken during visits in the 1980s. (5) The sound recordings are magnetic reels (1800, 1200, 800 feet) made or used by Fleming of lectures, sermons, speeches, religious services (various countries) and songs, and seminars (c 1955-1965).


  • Creation: 1942-1999

Language of Materials

English Chinese

Conditions Governing Access

Contact the repository for details. This collection is open. [Decision date 17 March 2022]

Conditions Governing Use

Contact the repository for details.

Biographical / Historical

John R. Fleming, Church of Scotland missionary in Manchuria and Szechwan, China, and in Singapore and south-east Asia, was born in Greenock, Scotland on 21 December 1910. He attended school in Glasgow and entered Glasgow University in 1929. His family belonged to the Church of Scotland but Fleming had no early interest in becoming a missionary. His original ambition was to join the Indian Civil Service but while at university was directed towards the ministry and stayed on to study at the divinity school. On graduating MA, BD, in 1935 he went to Heidelberg to study at the university there then returned to Scotland to become an assistant pastor in Port Glasgow where he was working when he was ordained. In 1938, after hearing G. P. Littlewood speak, Fleming determined to become a missionary in Manchuria. He was married in the same year to Pearl Clark Kerr (1911-1993) who he had known since school in Glasgow. The Flemings sailed for China in August 1938, they spent six months studying the language in Peking then moved to Hsin Min in Manchuria. They continued their studies but also became involved in the work of the church and teaching. In the spring of 1941 they moved to Liaoyang where Fleming was responsible, in partnership with the Chinese, for co-ordinating the work of the churches in the area and where his wife taught English. However, a few months later, with the approach of war the Flemings were persuaded to leave Manchuria. They hoped to go to India and then to enter western China but were delayed for four months in Singapore, then the ship taking them to India was bombed and sank so they also spent some time recuperating in Jakarta. Once in India they worked until the end of 1942 in Ajmer, Rajistan then managed to secure a flight to Chungking, Szechwan. For nearly two years they were responsible for the Church of Scotland schools at Wanhsien then returned to Scotland for furlough at the end of 1944. After the war in 1946 the Flemings were among the few missionaries invited back to Manchuria. Fleming taught in the Moukden Theological College and worked with the International Relief Commission while his wife taught English and gave birth to a daughter in 1949. Along with many other missionaries the Flemings left Manchuria in 1950. They then went to Singapore where Fleming continued his work in theological education, building up a network throughout south-east Asia. He was heavily involved in the East Asian Christian Conference and promoting the development of east Asian churches. The Flemings returned to Scotland in 1968 after which Fleming was appointed Senior Lecturer in Divinity at St Andrew's University where he stayed until his retirement in 1976. He continued to have a keen and active interest in the church in China and Asia and in human rights in the area. In 1981 Fleming was one of three representatives of the British Council of Churches to visit China, the first official visit of British Christians since 1949, although he had paid personal visits in 1972, 1975 and 1980. His interests also included the promotion of mission studies and the history of religion, and he published widely. He was awarded DD by Glasgow University in 1971. Fleming's wife died in 1993 and he died on 27 June 1999.


16 boxes


The material was deposited in two segments. The first was arranged by Ralph Covell and it is not clear how closely he followed the original arrangement. When the all material was re-filed and boxed in 2001 the existing file subjects and titles were kept as much as possible except in the case of loose papers and miscellaneous papers which were filed in the most appropriate file. The slides did not seem to be in any particular order despite the presence of notes in the slide boxes. They have been kept as they were found except that the slides taken during visits to China have been arranged together.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Part of the collection was presented to the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World by John Fleming in 1992. The rest came to the Centre through his daughter, Mrs Jenny Fleming-Ives, after Fleming's death in 1999. Ralph Covell listed the early material in 1992 and the collection was re-filed and boxed in 2001.


None expected.

Related Materials

The archives of the foreign missions of the Church of Scotland are deposited at the National Library of Scotland; the Flemings' early experiences in China are described in Through Typhoon, Blitz and Shipwreck (Edinburgh: Church of Scotland Foreign Missions Committee, c 1947); Fleming also donated several books and pamphlets to the Centre Library including a Chinese-English dictionary and Steven Mackie donated some printed items that had once belonged to Fleming; the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World holds several collections of archives relating to China and East Asia and the transcript of an interview with Fleming (see small collections: Ralph Covell).


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Anderson, Gerald (ed.). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1998. (2) East Asia Millions. OMF. October-December 1994), (3) Pray For China Fellowship. OMF. September 1994.

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379