Chapter 2 Psychological Research and the Roots of James Legge’s Resilience

In: Scottish Missions to China

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James Legge faced many extreme events across his long life, yet was astonishingly productive. This chapter studies his responses to challenging events in terms of psychological research. Deep-rooted aspects of resilience become more visible in behaviour during and after extreme events. Legge was the object of vilification from missionaries who disagreed with his favourable views about Chinese culture. He twice risked beheading by intervening to help Chinese men being terrorized during the Taiping Rebellion. He lost five of his eleven children and his two wives to alarming premature deaths, survived cholera epidemics, severe accidents, voyages surviving terrible storms, and massive fires in Hong Kong. He was poisoned twice in a famous scandal, helped save a sailing ship from fire on the high seas, took in a bohemian Qing scholar fleeing the dynasty, and foiled a bank-bombing plot. He earned enmity in the colony twice for providing court testimony about translation that favoured accused Chinese men rather than the authorities. He encountered severe interpersonal conflict in Malacca, and in Hong Kong was asked to intervene in conflicts between other mission men. Psychological research identifies roots to resilience, including specific features of temperament, beliefs, general intelligence, and social support. Across 30 years, Legge responded with resilience in three main ways. He tried to find out the facts where there were conflicts, he defended against injustice despite risking his life or reputation, and he persisted with productive work and family life.

Scottish Missions to China

Commemorating the Legacy of James Legge (1815-1897)



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