Edited from David Barboza
A ceremony on Monday honored John Leighton Stuart,a missionary and educator whose ashes were laid to rest at a cemetery near the eastern city of Hangzhou, China.
Mao Zedong, the late Communist leader who would take power two months later, quickly denounced Mr. Stuart as a symbol of failed American imperialism. Mr. Stuart's departure effectively ended diplomatic ties between the United States and New China for a quarter century.
Mr. Stuart died in Washington in 1962. He had written in his will that he hoped his remains would someday be buried in China, where he had been born the son of Christian missionaries in 1876 and had helped found a prominent university, but where he was no longer welcome.
For decades, the answer from Beijing seemed to be no.
But on Monday, 46 years after his death and after years of negotiations about the political implications of such a burial, Mr. Stuart's ashes were laid to rest at a cemetery near the eastern city of Hangzhou, about two hours south of Shanghai.
A small ceremony honoring Mr. Stuart on Monday was attended by Chinese and American officials, including the vice mayor of Hangzhou and the United States ambassador, Clark Randt Jr., as well as alumni of Yenching University in Beijing, the institution Mr. Stuart helped found.
"We tried for years to get this done," said Maj. Gen. John Fugh, 74, who has retired from the military and whose father was a close aide to Mr. Stuart in China. ˇ°Now, after nearly a half century, his wish has finally been carried out."
China granted the longstanding request after General Fugh, who now leads the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American advocacy group, appealed to several top officials, including Xi Jinping, a new member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Mr. Xi, whom experts on party affairs expect to succeed President Hu Jintao as China's top leader in 2012, had been the party secretary in Shanghai and neighboring Zhejiang Province, where Hangzhou is located.
It took decades to resolve the matter, in part, because of an essay Mao wrote on Aug. 18, 1949, titled "Farewell, Leighton Stuart!" In it, Mao called Mr. Stuart "a symbol of the complete defeat of the U.S. policy of intervention in China civil affairs" and chided the United States for its support of the Nationalists, who fought the Communists in a civil war before fleeing to Taiwan in 1949 with their leader, Chiang Kai-shek.
The essay was reprinted in Chinese textbooks and had been read by middle school students for almost 20 years before Deng Xiaoping's time, which is the reason why many Chinese know of Leighton Stuart from their youth.
In spite of President Nixon's opening to China in the 1970s, the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and China and trillions of dollars in trade between the countries, even senior Communist Party officials hesitated to take a clear stand on a matter on which Mao had made such a memorable pronouncement. While many of Mao's policies have long since been discarded, the ruling party still promotes him as the father of the modern Chinese nation.
Mr. Stuart's own history is a window into the shifting sands of Sino American relations from the later years of the Qing dynasty to the rise of P. R. China.
He was born in Hangzhou and grew up speaking fluent Chinese. He moved to the United States with his parents at the age of 11, eventually earned a degree from Union Theological Seminary and returned to China in 1904.
For the next 45 years, he worked as a missionary and educator in Hangzhou, Beijing and Nanjing. He raised money from wealthy Americans, including Henry Luce, the founder of Time and Life magazines, and in 1919 founded and was president of Yenching University, a Christian institution whose idyllic campus now is the site of Peking University.
Historians say Mr. Stuart pushed for reforms in China and led protests against the Japanese occupation of northern and then eastern China. Because of his stance, he was jailed in Beijing by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. He was released in 1945.
A year later, he was named ambassador to China at a time when Washington was supporting the Nationalists, who were waging a civil war with the Communists.
Mr. Stuart was the last American ambassador to China before the Communists seized power. It was not until 1973, after Nixon pushed to re-establish relations, that the United States opened a diplomatic liaison office in Beijing.
Mr. Stuart returned to Washington in 1949 and suffered a stroke. His wife, who had died in 1926, was buried near Yenching University; his parents were buried in Hangzhou.
General Fugh said Mr. Stuart lived the last decade of his life in Washington, under the care of General Fugh's father, Philip Fugh. Mr. Fugh was Mr. Stuart's longtime assistant.
The effort to have Mr. Stuart buried in China goes back to the 1960s. Mr. Stuart's children tried but failed to persuade Beijing to allow his remains to be buried there. They died and left no heirs. And in 1988, Philip Fugh died after unsuccessfully pressing for a burial in China. General Fugh has led the efforts since.
Last year, after meeting Mr. Xi Jinping, a new member of the Politburo Standing Committee, General Fugh said he got word that a burial in Hangzhou had been approved.