A Lineage of Light — Lecture Two, James Legge

James Legge (1815-1897) and the Chinese Classics is the second lecture in the series ‘On Culture & Translation’. It was presented by John Minford at the Hang Seng Management College on 20 February 2016. A link to the recording of the lecture on YouTube is provided here and below, along with the Lecture Handout prepared by the speaker.


The word 譯, ‘convey, explain, translate’, in the hand of Wang Duo 王鐸 (d.1652).

In February and March 2016, John Minford, co-founder of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and a leading translator of literary Chinese, presented ‘On Culture & Translation’, a series of five public lectures at the Hang Seng Management College 恒生管理學院 in Hong Kong where he is Sin Wai Kin Honorary Professor of Translation and Culture 冼為堅榮譽教授 (中國文化與翻譯) in the School of Translation.

In his lectures John traces a lineage of leading British interpreters of Chinese literature and thought by focussing on four translators: James Legge, Herbert Giles, Arthur Waley and David Hawkes. The Introductory Lecture addressed the broad topic of Culture and Translation and the nurturing of the literary or cultivated mind, what in Chinese is known as xiūyǎng 修養, or, in French, formationBildung in German. This is a subject that we will continue to consider in China Heritage.

John extols translators and their role in world civilisation as Warriors of Light. His overview of these four great translators whose work spans one and a-half centuries offers readers an insight into a little-appreciated Lineage of Light, one that remains vital for the appreciation and understanding of the Chinese world.

These lectures will be included in The Wairarapa Talks, one of the Projects of China Heritage. The Wairarapa Talks are recorded and/or transcribed lectures, speeches and lessons presented in various formats and at various locales by members of the Academy. Over time, The Wairarapa Talks will also recommend lectures by non-Academy writers and scholars.

— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage,  24 May 2017

Wang Tao 王韜 on James Legge:

With himself he is honest, to others he is gracious 其持己也廉,其待人也惠。

In receiving friends or dealing with people, he is modest and sincere. 周旋晉接,恂恂如也。

At first sight he looks dignified and stern as if he were difficult to approach, but if you have associated with him for a long time, you will feel the breadth of modesty and friendliness filling the world. 驟見之頃,儼然道貌,若甚難親,而久與之處,覺謙沖和靄之氣浸淫大宅間。

For over twenty years he has never ceased from loving talent and cherishing scholars, teaching them to hold to the great principles and not to esteem petty virtues. 即其愛育人才,培養士類,務持大體,弗尚小仁,二十余年如一日也。

Everybody in Kwangtung, whether acquainted with him or not, when they hear his name, are full of his praise. 粵中士民,無論識與不識,聞先生之名,輒盛口不置。

Thus one can see what kind of a man Dr Legge is. 嗚 呼!即以是可知先生矣。

Now that he must go back to his native land to attend to some business, those who are his disciples imbued with his teaching all feel sad at his departure and hope for his early return. 今以有事返國,凡游先生之門,涵濡教化者,無不甚惜其去而望其即至。

In my adversity I have known Dr Legge, and we became close friends through our community of interest in writing and scholarship. 余獲識先生於患難中,辱以文章學問相契,於其歸也,曷能已於言哉。

Although I cannot say that I know the mind of Dr Legge, yet I know him well enough to speak briefly about his life-work. 是雖未敢謂能識先生之心,而亦略足盡其生平用力之所在矣。

I would testify to this with all in China who admire him. 願與海內之景慕先生者,共証之可也。