In this magisterial study, Norman J. Girardot focuses on James Legge (1815-1897), one of the most important nineteenth-century figures in the cultural exchange between China and the West. A translator-transformer of Chinese texts, Legge was a pioneering cross-cultural pilgrim within missionary circles in China and within the academic world of Oxford University. By tracing Legge's career and his close association with Max Müller (1823-1900), Girardot elegantly brings a biographically embodied approach to the intellectual history of two important aspects of the emergent "human sciences" at the end of the nineteenth century: sinology and comparative religions.
Girardot weaves a captivating narrative that illuminates the era in which Legge lived as well as the surroundings in which he worked. His encyclopedic knowledge of pertinent figures, documents, peculiar ideologies, and even the personal quirks of principal and minor players brings the world of imperial China and Victorian England very much to life. At the same time, Girardot gets at the roots of much of the twentieth-century discourse about the strange religious or nonreligious otherness of China.
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"Norman J. Girardot's The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge's Oriental Pilgrimage is breathtaking in its scope. James Legge was a giant in Sinology; only a monumental volume such as this one could do justice to him. The publication of this biography of Legge is a major event, not just for the history of Sinology, but for the intellectual history of the late 19th century in general. Indeed, in a sense, the book is almost as much about the great Indologist and comparative philologist Max Müller as it is about the Christian missionary from Aberdeen who produced such epochal translations of the Chinese classics in Hong Kong and at Oxford. Partly inspired by Lytton Strachey’s trenchant insights of into the Victorian mind and character, Girardot's masterpiece deserves to be ranked with the finest examples of the craft of writing about influential persons and interesting eras. But it is more than that; quite simply, this is one of the most outstanding academic biographies of all time and in any field." Victor H. Mair, translator of Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way and Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu.
"Through a densely annotated translation of the entire Confucian canon and two seminal Daoist texts, James Legge is the single most important individual in making the historical classics of Chinese history and philosophy known to English readership, and through it to the entire Western world. Norman Girardot’s study, surpassing all previous efforts in chronicling the person and assessing Legge’s legacy, is itself a monumental achievement in research, interpretation, and writing. The focalized discussion of the subject in terms of the scholar as missionary, the development of Sinological Orientalism, and the rise and growth of the Comparative Science of Religions or Religionswissenschaft provides unrivalled enormity of scope and depth of understanding. The Victorian Translation of China will remain a definitive work for decades to come." Anthony C. Yu, author most recently of Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber.
Norman J. Girardot is University Distinguished Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Lehigh University. His previous books include Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism (California, 1983).
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