John, Griffith (1831-1912)

London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary to China

Three veteran missionaries: J. Hudson Taylor, Griffith John (standing), and W.A.P. Martin

Born at Swansea, Wales, John trained for the Congregational ministry at Brecon College, Wales, and Bedford Academy, England. After ordination he offered himself for service in Madagascar. But he was persuaded by LMS to accept appointment to China and arrived at Shanghai in September 1855. An inveterate itinerator, he became well known for his extensive missionary journeys into the Chinese interior—journeys that sometimes stretched to 3,000 miles or more. In July of 1861 he moved to Hankow (Hankou), which remained his base until his final departure from China in 1912. There, John, fluent in both spoken and written Chinese, made his major contribution to the Chinese church as author, translator, and preacher. A powerful and eloquent speaker, he was immensely popular with the Chinese, who would gather in great numbers to hear him preach. He was notably successful in training and mentoring numerous Chinese evangelists. He was also a prolific pamphleteer, authoring numerous popular tracts and serving for many years as chairman of the Central China Tract Society. He is credited with a Mandarin translation of the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, as well as a Wen-li New Testament, published in 1885. Elected chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales for 1889, he declined the honor, remaining instead in Hankow among his beloved Chinese. The University of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of D.D. (1889) in recognition of his service to the Chinese. During a career spanning 60 years, John left China only three times, returning finally to England in January of 1912.

Jonathan J. Bonk, “John, Griffith,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 334.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


Digital Texts

John, Griffith. China: Her Claims and Call. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882.

_____. A Voice from China. London: James Clarke, 1907.

Lovett, Richard. The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795-1895. With Portraits and Maps. London: Oxford University Press, 1899.

Robson, William. Griffith John of Hankow. London: Pickering & Inglis, 1929.

Thompson, Ralph Wardlow. Griffith John: The Story of Fifty Years in China. With Two Photogravure Portraits and Sixteen Other Illustrations. London: Religious Tract Society, 1906.


John, Griffith. Sowing and Reaping: Letters from the Rev. Griffith John. London: London Missionary Society, 1897.
Sowing and Reaping


Bonk, Jonathan J. The Theory and Practice of Missionary Identification, 1860-1920. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1989.

Gibbard, Noel. Griffith John: Apostle to Central China. Bridgend: Bryntirion Press, 1998.

Reason, Joyce . Griffith John of China: A Biography. London: Eagle Books, 1950.

Sibree, James. London Missionary Society: A Register of Missionaries, Deputations, Etc., from 1796-1923. 4th ed. London: London Missionary Society, 1923.


Rev. John Griffith, D.D. (standing), Rev. J. Hudson Taylor, M.D. (left) and Rev. W. A. P. Martin, D.D. From Ralph Wardlow Thompson, Griffith John: The Story of Fifty Years in China. With Two Photogravure Portraits and Sixteen Other Illustrations. London: Religious Tract Society, 1906, opposite page 42.