Herbert A. Giles was the fourth son of John Allen Giles (1808–1884), an Anglican clergyman. After studying at Charterhouse, Herbert became a British diplomat to Qing China, serving from 1867 to 1892. He also spent several years (1885–1888) at Fort Santo Domingo in Tamsui, northern Taiwan. He was the father of Bertram, Valentine, Lancelot, Edith, Mable, and Lionel Giles. In 1897 Herbert Giles became only the second professor of Chinese language appointed at the University of Cambridge, succeeding Thomas Wade. At the time of his appointment, there were no other sinologists at Cambridge. Giles was therefore free to spend most of his time among the ancient Chinese texts earlier donated by Wade, publishing what he chose to translate from his eclectic reading in Chinese literature.
His later works include a history of the Chinese Pictorial Art in 1905 and his 1914 Hibbert Lectures on Confucianism which was published in 1915 by Williams and Norgate (de). He dedicated the third edition of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (1916) to his seven grandchildren, but at the end of his life was on speaking terms with only one of his surviving children. An ardent agnostic, he was also an enthusiastic freemason. He never became a Fellow at one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, despite being a university professor for 35 years. He finally retired in 1932, and died at 89
full of inaccuracies and the selection leaves much to be desired. Between one third and a half of the dates are wrong because Giles supposed that if somebody is recorded as having died in 1200 aged 63 he or she must have been born in 1137 (in most cases 1138 would have been a better guess).
He also ran afoul of the Chinese scholar Gu Hongming, who declared
Dr. Giles' Chinese biographical dictionary, it must be admitted, is a work of immense labour. But here again Dr. Giles shows an utter lack of the most ordinary judgment. In such a work, one would expect to find notices only of really notable men.
... in no sense a dictionary at all. It is merely a collection of Chinese phrases and sentences, translated by Dr. Giles without any attempt at selection, arrangement, order or method," and "decidedly of less value than even the old dictionary of Dr. Williams."
^Aylmer, Charles, East Asian History 13–14, 1997, pp. 1–7; Sterckx, Roel, In the Fields of Shennong: An inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Cambridge on 30 September 2008 to mark the establishment of the Joseph Needham Professorship of Chinese History, Science and Civilization. Cambridge: Needham Research Institute, 2008.
^"An Introduction to the History of Chinese Pictorial Art by Herbert A. Giles". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 7 (29): 405. August 1905. JSTOR856445.
^Chavannes, Ed. (1905). "An Introduction to the History of Chinese Pictorial Art by H. A. Giles". T'oung Pao. Second Series. 6 (2): 251. JSTOR4525813.