Lionel Giles

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Lionel Giles
Lionel Giles, translator of The Art of War and the Analects of Confucius
Born(1875-12-29)29 December 1875
Died22 January 1958(1958-01-22) (aged 82)
Alma materWadham College, Oxford
Scientific career
FieldsHistory, Sinology

Lionel Giles CBE (29 December 1875 – 22 January 1958) was a British sinologist, writer, and philosopher. Lionel Giles served as assistant curator at the British Museum and Keeper of the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books. He is most notable for his 1910 translations of The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Analects of Confucius.

Giles was the son of British diplomat and sinologist Herbert Giles.

Early life[edit]

Giles was born in Sutton, the fourth son of Herbert Giles and his first wife Catherine Fenn. Educated privately in Belgium (Liège), Austria (Feldkirch), and Scotland (Aberdeen), Giles studied Classics at Wadham College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1899.[1][2]

The Art of War[edit]

The 1910 Giles translation of The Art of War succeeded British officer Everard Ferguson Calthrop's[3] 1905 and 1908 translations, and refuted large portions of Calthrop's work. In the Introduction, Giles writes:

It is not merely a question of downright blunders, from which none can hope to be wholly exempt. Omissions were frequent; hard passages were willfully distorted or slurred over. Such offenses are less pardonable. They would not be tolerated in any edition of a Latin or Greek classic, and a similar standard of honesty ought to be insisted upon in translations from Chinese.[4]


Lionel Giles used the Wade-Giles romanisation method of translation, pioneered by his father Herbert. Like many sinologists in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, he was primarily interested in Chinese literature, which was approached as a branch of classics. Victorian sinologists contributed greatly to problems of textual transmission of the classics. The following quote shows Giles' attitude to the problem identifying the authors of ancient works like the Lieh Tzu, the Chuang Tzu and the Tao Te Ching:

The extent of the actual mischief done by this "Burning of the Books" has been greatly exaggerated. Still, the mere attempt at such a holocaust gave a fine chance to the scholars of the later Han dynasty (A.D. 25-221), who seem to have enjoyed nothing so much as forging, if not the whole, at any rate portions, of the works of ancient authors. Some one even produced a treatise under the name of Lieh Tzu, a philosopher mentioned by Chuang Tzu, not seeing that the individual in question was a creation of Chuang Tzu's brain![5]

Continuing to produce translations of Chinese classics well into the later part of his life, he was quoted by John Minford as having confessed to a friend that he was a "Taoist at heart, and I can well believe it, since he was fond of a quiet life, and was free of that extreme form of combative scholarship which seems to be the hall mark of most Sinologists."[1]


The prodigious translations of Lionel Giles include the books of: Sun Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu, Mencius, and Confucius.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b John Minford, Sinology, Old and New China Heritage Quarterly, China Heritage Project, Australian National University, No. 13, March 2008.
  2. ^ Forbes, Andrew ; Henley, David (2012).'Lionel Giles' in: The Illustrated Art of War: Sun Tzu. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B00B91XX8U
  3. ^ Calthrop was killed in action in December 1915 in Flanders. "The Late Major E. F. Calthorp, R.A.F." The Spectator. 12 February 1916. Everard F. Calthorp's only sister, Hope Calthorp (1881–1960), married Lieutenant-Colonel Hermann Gaston de Watteville in 1914.
  4. ^ Lionel Giles, The Art of War by Sun Tzu – Classic Collector's Edition, ELPN Press, 2009 ISBN 1-934255-15-7
  5. ^ Lionel Giles, tr. Taoist Teachings from the Book of Lieh-Tzŭ. London: Wisdom of the East. 1912
  6. ^ a b John Minford, Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations, Columbia University Press, 2000 ISBN 0-231-09677-1
  7. ^ Lionel Giles and Herbert Giles, Tao: The Way, ELPN Press, 2007 ISBN 1-934255-13-0
  8. ^ Meaning in The Book of Mencius Encyclopædia Britannica
  9. ^ Herbert Giles, Frederic Balfour, Lionel Giles, Biographies of Immortals: Legends of China, ELPN Press, 2010 ISBN 1-934255-30-0
  10. ^ Giles, Lionel (1948), A Gallery of Chinese Immortals, London: John Murray, ISBN 0-404-14478-0, reprinted 1979 by AMS Press (New York).

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