James Legge (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. Legge married twice, first to Mary Isabella Morison (1816-1852) and after she died to a widow, Hannah Mary Willetts (d 1881, née Johnstone).
Believing in the necessity of missionaries being 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 admirably executed and 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.
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. He was then pastor at Union Church, Hong Kong, 1870-1873, visited mission stations at Shanghai, Chefoo (Yantai) and Peking (Beijing), and returned to England via Japan and the USA in 1873. 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, over 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 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.