James Legge bigraphy, stories - Missionary in China

James Legge : biography

December 20, 1815 - November 29, 1897

James Legge ( Chinese: 理雅各; December 20, 1815 – November 29, 1897) was a noted Scottish sinologist, a Scottish Congregationalist, representative of the London Missionary Society in Malacca and Hong Kong (1840–1873), and first professor of Chinese at Oxford University (1876–1897). In association with Max Müller he prepared the monumental Sacred Books of the East series, published in 50 volumes between 1879 and 1891.


James Legge was born at Huntly, Aberdeenshire, and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and then Kings College, Aberdeen. After studying at the Highbury Theological College, London, he went in 1839 as a missionary to China, but remained at Malacca three years, in charge of the Anglo-Chinese College there. The College was subsequently moved to Hong Kong, where Legge lived for nearly thirty years. A Chinese Christian, Keuh Agong accompanied Legge when he moved in 1844. He returned home to Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in 1846–7, taking with him three Chinese students. Legge and the students were received by Queen Victoria before his return to Hong Kong.

Legge and his three Chinese students Legge married twice, first to Mary Isabella Morison (1816–1852) and after she died to a widow, Hannah Mary Willetts (d 1881, née Johnstone).

Convinced of the need for missionaries to be able to comprehend the ideas and culture of the Chinese, he began in 1841 a translation in many volumes of the Chinese classics, a monumental task that he completed a few years before his death. During his residence in Hong Kong, he translated Chinese classic literature into English with the help of Wang Tao and Hong Rengan, among others. He was the headmaster at Ying Wa College in Hong Kong from 1839 to 1867, and pastor of the Union Church there from 1844 to 1867.

He was third and final editor of the Chinese Serial, the first Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong. The paper closed in May 1856.

In 1867, Legge returned to Dollar in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, where he invited Wang Tao to join him, and received his LLD from the University of Aberdeen in 1870. While in Scotland, he also revisited his native burgh, Huntly, accompanied by Wang Tao. He then returned to Hong Kong as pastor at Union Church from 1870 to 1873. He took a long trip to North China, beginning 2 April 1873 in Shanghai, arriving at Tianjin by boat, then travelling by mule cart and arriving in Peking on 16 April 1873, where he stayed at the London Missionary Society headquarters. He visited the Great Wall, Ming Tombs and the Temple of Heaven, where he felt compelled to take off his shoes with holy awe. He left Peking, accompanied by Joseph Edkins, and headed for Shandong by mule cart to visit Jinan, Taishan, where they ascended the sacred Mount Tai, carried by four men on chairs. Leaving Mount Tai on May 15, they visited Confucius Temple and the Forest of Confucius at Qufu, where he climbed to the top of the Confucius' burial mound. Legge returned to Shanghai by way of the Grand Canal, and thence to England via Japan and the USA in 1873.Norman J. Girardot, The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge's Oriental Pilgrimage, pp.83–97. ISBN 0-520-21552-4. In 1875 he was named Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford and in 1876 assumed the new Chair of Chinese Language and Literature at Oxford, where he attracted few students to his lectures but worked hard for some 20 years in his study at 3 Keble Terrace, on his translations of the Chinese classics. According to an anonymous contemporary obituary in the Pall Mall Gazette, Legge was in his study every morning at three o'clock, winter and summer, having retired to bed at ten. When he got up in the morning the first thing he did was to make himself a cup of tea over a spirit-lamp. Then he worked away at his translations while all the household slept.

In his book The religions of China: Confucianism and Tâoism described and compared with Christianity published in 1880, he wrote that he encountered a mosque in Canton which had a placard denouncing footbinding, saying Islam did not allow it since it constituted violating the creation of God.(Original from Harvard University)

Legge was an ardent opponent of Britain's opium policy, and was a founding member of the Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade.

In addition to his other work Legge wrote The Life and Teaching of Confucius (1867); The Life and Teaching of Mencius (1875); The Religions of China (1880); and other books on Chinese literature and religion.

Legge was given an honorary MA, University of Oxford, and LLD, University of Edinburgh, 1884. Legge died at Oxford in 1897 and is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery. Many of his manuscripts and letters are archived at the School of Oriental and African Studies.'James Legge - A short biography' in: Forbes, Andrew; Henley, David (2012). The Illustrated Tao Te Ching. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B008NNLKXC

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Living octopus

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