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James Legge’s Hermeneutical Methodology as Revealed in His Translation of the Daxue

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With a focus on The Great Learning (Daxue 大學), this paper explores the specific exegetical or hermeneutical methodology adopted by James Legge in his translation of this Confucian canonical text. It begins with an analysis of the translation theory endorsed by Legge, comparing his translation with those of Ku Hung-ming and Wing-tsit Chan. The second part aims to explicate the hermeneutic dilemma faced by Legge in his dealing with this text. It looks at the intellectual context in which Legge’s scholarship on the Chinese classics had developed, as well as the academic standard he was required to maintain throughout his translation. Overall, Legge’s familiarity with Qing scholarship makes it interesting to determine where and why he follows or rejects Zhu Xi. Given Legge’s Christian missionary background and the sense of mission pervading Zhu Xi’s commentary, we conclude that Legge’s affinity with Zhu Xi is much more subtle and complex than previously speculated: the difference in their approach to Confucian texts cannot be reduced to a contrast between construction and deconstruction or between canonization and decanonization.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Sun Yat-sen University


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