Reasons and Results of a Life Devoted to Missionary Work and Sinology

Daniel Macklin


The escalation of China’s interaction with the wider world is inextricably linked to the influx of Christian missionaries from the West, a decisive era that arose during the latter part of the nineteenth century. During the same period, the study of China by Western minds began in earnest. The intimate coexistence of these two phenomena is quite clear, not just across society as a whole, but also in individual cases. It is difficult to find a more illustrative example than that of James Legge, whose career can be summarized, albeit crudely, as ‘half missionary, half sinologist.’ Legge devoted almost the entirety of his life to these two causes; his legacy has proven indispensable to future generations in both fields. Following on from the comprehensive biography by Norman Girardot, which has revived interest in this pivotal but sadly neglected figure, this paper will focus on the conflict and concord within the missionary and academic work of James Legge, a Protestant evangelical Scotsman-turned-old-China-hand. I will investigate whether Legge’s labors achieved more for the sake of either Christianity in China or Sinology in the West, and observe the associated controversies which arise: academia versus evangelism, East and West, political and missionary service, and so forth. What has proven especially worthy of scrutiny is the development of the intentions and outcomes of Legge’s efforts, and the disagreement that lies therein.

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