James P. Leynse Papers, circa 1960s

Overview of the Collection

Leynse, James P.
James P. Leynse Papers
circa 1960s (inclusive)
2 containers., (.75 linear feet of shelf space.)
Collection Number
Cage 444
Autobiography and novels, primarily relating to his China experiences, also letters from his son, Humphrey.
Washington State University Libraries' Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Terrell Library Suite 12
Pullman, WA
Telephone: 509-335-6691
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

James P. Leynse was born in Middleburg, Holland, on March 20, 1890. At an early age Leynse showed a talent for rhetoric and had ambitions as a stage actor. His Dutch-Calvanist father challenged him to do more with his life and this eventually led him to the University of Leiden to study for the ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church.

As soon as he was ordained, Leynse elected to serve as a missionary in China. His church did not have any missions in China at that time; but this stopped him only momentarily. He decided to seek affiliation with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in the United States. The American officials, however, were not satisfied with his education and required him to study for two more years at Princeton University and be ordained once again.

Shortly after he completed his additional studies, his Dutch fiancee, Anna Marie Groenendyk, came to America and they were married on June 21, 1920. They sailed for China in December 1920 and for the next 29 years their home was the Presbyterian Mission in Peking. It was there that their two sons, Humphrey and Waldo, were born.

Leynse's first three years in China were spent learning to read and speak Mandarin Chinese at the College of Chinese studies. At this time Peking was noted for its poverty, beggars, and disease. One of Leynse's first jobs was the organization of kitchens which served free millet porridge to thousands of the hungry. Leynse soon realized, however, that he was only treating a symptom of the problem. Therefore, he wrote to Holland and asked his sister Francina Leynse for help. She arrived in 1930 and for 15 years helped to establish and run an industrial center where homeless women and children could learn a skill.

With the Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of China, larger problems loomed for the Leynses. At first the Japanese permitted Leynse to continue the Peking Poor Relief Committee. Even though other foreigners were being evacuated the Leynses stayed on in the hopes that the Japanese would continue to overlook them. Late in 1941, they travelled to Japan in order to secure passage to America for their younger son, Waldo. While in Japan they were placed under house arrest and confined for a year and a half. With the aid of Japanese friends they were released and returned to China only to be recaptured and held at the British Embassy in Peking for the remainder of World War II.

During his captivity, Leynse was considerably weakened by bouts with typhoid fever and "sprue" (a disease of the liver and intestines brought on by malnutrition). Despite this ill health he stayed on in China after the Japanese surrender to reorganize and reopen the mission kitchens and hospital.

In 1946 "sprue" attacked him again and he became almost bedridden. Owing to his long service and poor health the mission retired him in 1949. Upon his retirement, Leynse settled in Claremont, California where he began to write.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The James P. Leynse papers consist of four manuscripts plus a small correspondence file. Beauty for Ashes is an autobiography of his life in China and was the principal source for the preceding biography. Before the Mayflower and Dream Come True are novels concerning the lives of a Puritan family who fled from England to Holland to escape English religious persecution in the 17th century. The family eventually became part of the group of Pilgrims who sailed for America. Fly the Dragon is the fictional story of a Chinese boy during the early 20th century who rebels against the ancient traditions of his family and strikes out on his own. This story offers a view of Chinese society and the struggle against the traditions which hindered Chinese modernization in the 20th century.

Leynse's autobiography is significant in that it provides a picture of life in Peking and the surrounding countryside from the 1920s through the 1940s. Leynse encountered many of the individuals who molded the history of China during the first half of the 20th century. His character sketches of Chiang K'ai-shek, Madame Chiang, the last Ch'ing emperor Pu-yi, members of the Nationalist government (T. V. Soong and others), Mao Tse-tung, Chou Enlai, and Chu Teh are thoughtful and vividly drawn. Leynse's particular style and strong viewpoint--that of a Western Christian missionary dedicated to helping the Chinese people--do not obscure an interesting glimpse of China in poverty, war, and revolution.

Included in the last folder of the papers are letters received from Leynse's son, Humphrey. This correspondence dates from the year 1964.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Item Description]. Cage 444, James P. Leynse Papers. Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The collection is arranged in a single series. The correspondence (folder 5) is arranged in chronological order.

Acquisition Information

The papers of James P. Leynse (MS 81-40) were separated from those of his son, Humphrey W. Leynse (MS 79-39) which were donated to the Washington State University Archives by Judith L. Leynse in August 1979. In 2007, Gary Endicott donated two additional manuscripts (China Tales and Forever China). These were added to the existing collection (MS 2007-4).

Related Materials

The papers of James P. Leynse (MS 81-40) were separated from those of his son, Humphrey W. Leynse (Cage 438: MS 79-39).

Processing Note

This collection was processed in August of 1981 by Barbara Kovarik-Gahl.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 Beauty for Ashes
1 item.
1 2 Before the Mayflower
1 item.
1 3 Dream Come True
1 item.
2 4 Fly the Dragon
1 item.
2 5 Correspondence
10 items.
3 6-9 China Tales undated
3 10-13 Forever China undated

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Personal Names

  • Leynse, James P. --Archives (creator)
  • Leynse, Humphrey W. (Humphrey William), 1921-1977


  • Missionaries--China -- Biography
  • Missionaries--China -- Correspondence

Titles within the Collection

  • Beauty for Ashes
  • Before the Mayflower
  • Dream Come True
  • Fly the Dragon