Joseph Edkins

Joseph Edkins

Joseph Edkins (Chinese: 艾约瑟; December 19, 1823 – April 23, 1905) was a British Protestant missionary who spent 57 years in China, 30 of them in Beijing. As a Sinologue, he specialized in Chinese religions. He was also a linguist, a translator, and a philologist. Writing prolifically, he penned many books about the Chinese language and the Chinese religions especially Buddhism. In his "China's Place in Philology" (1871), he tries to show that the languages of Europe and Asia have a common origin by comparing the Chinese and Indo-European vocabulary.


Born at Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, he graduated from the University of London in 1843. He was ordained on December 8, 1847. Sent by the London Missionary Society, he arrived in China on July 22, 1848 at Hong Kong, and reached Shanghai on September 2. First he worked in the London Missionary Society Press in Shanghai under Walter Henry Medhurst. From 1852 to 1858 he edited the Chinese annual "Chinese and Foreign Concord Almanach" (華洋和合通書), later known as the "Chinese and Western Almanac" (中西通書). During this period of time, he collaborated with Li Shanlan, Wang Tao and others to translate many Western scientific works into Chinese. Besides this, he was involved in Bible translation and an active member of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. In the 1850s he traveled extensively in the Shanghai and Ningbo regions. He also was involved in direct evangelism, and accompanied Hudson Taylor on some of his first canal-boat travels in China, distributing portions of Scripture and Christian tracts.

In March 1858 he left for England. When he returned, he brought his Scottish bride, Jane Rowbotham Stobbs. They were married on February 7, 1859. They settled in Shanghai on September 14 of that same year.

During his years in Shanghai, in July 1860 he visited the Taiping Rebellion leaders at Suzhou, Jiangsu. He made several contacts with the leaders of the "Taiping Heavenly Kingdom" in an effort to determine the precise beliefs of this movement. In late March 1861 he spent eleven days in Taiping-held Nanjing.

In 1860 the Edkins family moved to Yantai, Shandong, and in 1861 to Tianjin. His wife died before 1863 at the age of 22. Edkins remarried to Janet Wood White that year. In May 1863 he settled in Beijing. In 1872, he collaborated with William Alexander Parsons Martin to publish the Chinese magazine "Peking Magazine" (中西聞見錄). The magazine ran for 36 issues, terminating in 1875.In 1873, he traveled alone to England via the United States, and returned to Beijing in 1876. In 1880 he resigned from the London Missionary Society to become a translator for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs. He was widowed a second time in 1877 and remarried to Johanna Schmidt in 1881. He was appointed by the Customs head to edit and translate a series of Western scientific works into Chinese, and the fruits were the "16 Primers for Western Knowledge" (西學啟蒙十六種) published in 1898, which comprised textbooks about zoology, botany, chemistry, geography, physiology, logic and other subjects. In 1903 he survived typhoid and was still writing at the age of 81. He died in Shanghai on Easter Sunday, 1905.


* "A Grammar of Colloquial Chinese as exhibited in the Shanghai Dialect", Shanghai 1853.
* "Phases in the Development of Tauism", "Transactions of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society", 1st series, 5: 83-99, 1855. (The earliest study in a Western language to include an account of Chinese alchemy, pp. 84-91).
* "On Early Tauist Alchemy", North China Herald 1857.
* "A Grammar of the Chinese Colloquial Language, commonly called the Mandarin dialect", Shanghai 1857.
* "The Religious Condition of the Chinese; with Observations on the Prospects of Christian Conversion amongst that People", London 1859. Second edition entitled "Religion in China: containing a Brief Account of the Three Religions of the Chinese: with Observations on the Prospects of Christian Conversion amongst that People", 1877.
* "Progressive Lessons in the Chinese Spoken Language", Shanghai 1862.
* "A Vocabulary of the Shanghai Dialect", Shanghai 1869.
* "The Miau-tsi Tribes", Foochow 1870.
* "China's Place in Philology: an Attempt to show that the Languages of Europe and Asia have a Common Origin", London 1871
* "Introduction to the Study of the Chinese Characters", London 1876
* "A Catalogue of Chinese Works in the Bodleian Library", London 1876
* "Chinese Buddhism: a Volume of Sketches, Historical, Descriptive, and Critical", London 1880
* "The Evolution of the Chinese Language as exemplifying the Origin and Growth of Human Speech", London 1888.
* "Opium: Historical Note or the Poppy in China", Shanghai 1898
* "The Revenue and Taxation of the Chinese Empire", Shanghai 1903

External links

* [ Biographical sketch and list of his works] , at EDKINS Surname Resource Centre
* [ Biographical sketch] , at the Ricci 21st Century Roundtable database, supported only by 5.0 or later versions of Internet Explorer
* [ His works published on Hong Kong journals] , at Hong Kong Journals Online (HKJO), many pieces, search for "Edkins"

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