Giles, Lionel

Lionel Giles (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 translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Analects of Confucius.

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

Lionel Giles used the Wade-Giles romanisation method of translation, pioneered by his father, Herbert Giles. 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![4]

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]