This article investigates the interacting soft power of two important categories of American transnational actors: American missionary universities in China and the Middle East and American religious, foundation and individual philanthropy. These transnational actors have had and have soft power in Chinese and Middle East societies based on academic excellence and biculturalism. However, this transnational actor soft power has historically been limited by religious proselytising, unequal treaties between China and the West, the humiliation of China, and American China and Middle East policy. The universities have had and continue to have reverse soft power in the USA attracting resources and advocating on behalf of China and the Middle East. Philanthropic support for the educational, research, healthcare and social development work of these universities has contributed to university soft power in the host societies. The universities and their philanthropic donors have strengthened US national soft power regarding milieu goals of elite attraction to education, language and liberal norms. However, US national soft power concerning possession goals of acceptance of foreign policies in China and the Middle East has not been strengthened, and was also not a university, philanthropic or government goal.