Christian Yijing: James Legge's Moral and Religious Interpretation of The Book of Changes

James Legge (1815–97), arguably the most prominent missionary-sinologist in the 19th century and the founding Professor of Chinese in Oxford in 1876, produced an English translation of the Yijing (Book of Changes), the highly venerated and influential Chinese classic, in 1882. This translation was included in Max Müller’s monumental Sacred Books of the East series. Perceiving the Yijing as a Confucian classic with profound moralistic connotations, Legge even revered it as a ‘sacred book’ containing some divine revelation. He claimed that the Chinese term di or shangdi meant ‘God–our God–the true God’, insisting that ‘God’ was the ‘correct’ translation of (shang)di, ‘the Lord and Ruler of Heaven’; and that the operations of nature in the various seasons, as denoted by the trigrams, are the operations of Shangdi. This lecture examines Legge’s pioneering attempt of introducing and translating the Chinese classic to the West, which engendered profound inter-religious encounters and dialogues between Confucianism and Christianity.

Prof. John T. P. LAI received his DPhil. (Oriental Studies) from Oxford (2005), and is currently Professor in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong.