Mailla was born in the chateau of Maillac, which had been in his family for more than 500 years, located in the diocese of Belley, France. He renounced all claims to a patrimony and entered the Society of Jesus in 1686. He embarked for China in 1701 and arrived in Macao in 1703. After Chinese language training, he worked in Kiangsi (Jiangxi) Province. Called to Peking (Beijing) to assist his confreres in making maps of the empire, from 1710 to 1714 he traveled to several provinces and also made a trip to Taiwan.
When Mailla returned to the capital, the emperor assigned him to work at court, where he learned Manchu. He wrote several spiritual works in Chinese, including one on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and another on giving an eight-day retreat according to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. In his French publication of a legthy twelfth-century history of China that had been recently translated into Manchu, Mailla at times added other material, including data on the Ming and Ching (Qing) dynasties. He sent a copy of this work to Lyons, and it was published posthumously. He died in Peking.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Joseph Mailla, Histoire generale de la Chine, 12 vols. (1777-1783). M. Milsky, “Les souscripteurs de ‘l’Histoire generale de la Chine’ du P. de Mailla,” in Les Rapports entre la Chine et l’Europe au temps des lumieres (1980), pp. 101-123; Louis Pfister, Notices biographiques et bibliographiques sur les Jesuites de l’ancienne mission de Chine (1932-1934; repr., 1975), pp. 596-605 (with a list of Mailla’s Chinese works).