Ernst Johann Eitel

Ernst Johann Eitel or alternatively Ernest John Eitel (13 February 1838 – 10 November 1908) was a German Protestant missionary to China born in Württemberg, Germany.

Early life in Germany

Eitel studied initially at the Theological Seminary, Schönthal. In 1860, he graduated from the University of Tübingen with Master of Arts (and Doctor of Philosophy in 1871). He was appointed vicar of the state Evangelical-Lutheran Church at Mossingen for the next 12 months.[1]

Canton and Hong Kong

Adopting the Chinese name 歐德理 (pinyin: Ōudélǐ), he came to Lilang, Xin'an district in Guangdong, China under the Basel Mission. Facing refusal of permission to marry an ex-Catholic, he transferred to the London Missionary Society at Canton in April 1865 and took charge of the Boluo Mission and the Hakka villages outside Canton. The next year, he married Mary Anne Winifred Eaton of the Female Education Society and Lady Superintendent of the Diocesan Native Female Training School.

In January 1870 he moved to Hong Kong while still having charge of the Boluo Mission. In 1875, he became Director of Chinese Studies. In 1878, he was appointed Supervisor of Interpreters and Translator to the Supreme Court though he resigned this post in 1882 after censure for accepting private payment for translation work he was required to do anyway.[2] He had resigned from the London Missionary Society in April 1879.

From March 1879 to 1896, Eitel served as Inspector of Schools of the Hong Kong Government. He was particularly vigorous in promoting education for girls[3] and pursued a policy of private education over government-run schooling.[4] He also served as Private Secretary to Governor Sir John Pope Hennessy for about two years from 1880 to 1881, again resigning under a cloud, the Governor accusing him of having exceeded his authority.

Eitel left Hong Kong in 1896 to begin a new life as Pastor of St Stephen's Lutheran Church, Pirie Street, Adelaide, South Australia, in 1897.[5]:15 The next year, he was appointed part-time lecturer in German at the University of Adelaide, a post he held until he died.

A Cantonese Dictionary

Eitel published his Cantonese dictionary, Chinese Dictionary in the Cantonese Dialect in 1877. This expanded the work of James Legge on the Kangxi Dictionary.

Eitel used his own system of Cantonese Romanization which was a minor refinement of the work of Elijah Bridgman in his pioneering 'Chinese Chrestomathy in the Canton Dialect' of 1841 and Samuel Williams' glossary dictionary Tonic Dictionary of the Chinese Language in the Canton Dialect written in 1856.[6] His publication was intended to standardize the pronunciation of Cantonese by students in Hong Kong.

His work was criticised by Wong Shik-ling in his book A Chinese Syllabary Pronounced according to the Dialect of Canton on the basis that it inherited inaccuracies from former works.



  1. Harvey, Nick; Fornasiero, Jean (1 January 2012). A History of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide 1876-2012. University of Adelaide Press. pp. 145–146. ISBN 9781922064363.
  2. Wesley-Smith, Peter (2012). Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. p. 133. ISBN 9789888083664.
  3. Sweeting, A.E. (1 May 1990). Education in Hong Kong, Pre-1841 to 1941: Fact and Opinion. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. p. 247. ISBN 9789622092587.
  4. Chan, Chak-kwan (16 September 2011). Social Security Policy in Hong Kong: From British Colony to China's Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong: Lexington Books. p. 22. ISBN 9780739149560.
  5. Eitel, Ernst J (1900). "China and the Far Eastern Question; A Study in Political Geography". Adelaide: Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.
  6. Kataoka, Shin; Lee, Cream (2008). "A System without a System: Cantonese Romanization Used in Hong Kong Place and Personal Names". Hong Kong Journal of Applied Linguistics: 82.
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