In Memoriam: Kristofer Marinus Schipper (23 October 1934 – 18 February 2021)

"We are deeply saddened to share the news of the passing away of Prof. Kristofer Schipper. He left in peace, surrounded by his family. Prof. Schipper was researcher at EFEO (1962-1972), research professor in Daoist studies at EPHE (1972-2000) and professor of Chinese culture at Leiden University (1993-1999) among many other appointments. It is hard to imagine anyone in the field of Chinese religions who has not read and been inspired by his work." (Prof. Vincent Goossaert)

Below, the SSCR is sharing a variety of videos, memories and obituaries by former students, colleagues, friends. They  are in no particular order; some of them are links, some of them are pasted in full.

A series of videos featuring Prof. Schipper

Taoism and the Nature of Ritual

The Way of Chinese Religion

A Brief History of China

Kristofer Schipper being interviewed by a Chinese reporter

The Aishan Foundation for Research on Daoist nature sanctuaries


A list of publications


Images of some of his books



Schipper with his books

La Religion vivante

Le corps Taoiste


Below, remembrances by Vincent Goossaert, Franciscus Verellen, Brigitte Baptandier, Lü Pengzhi, Lü Chikuan, John Lagerway, Lee Fong-mao, Stephen Bokenkamp and Terry Kleeman


A remembrance by Prof. Vincent Goossaert

Very few people changed the field of Chinese religions as Rik did. And, very few people changed my life as he did. There will be many formal tributes and obituaries, but please bear with me as I write something on the personal side. Rik was extraordinary and unpredictable, and his unique persona can be presented in many ways. My own way of remembering Rik is that he was generosity incarnate: not just with money (he certainly was that too), but with everything: time, ideas, books, everything. He just had so much to share. 

When I first came to meet him, I was just a curious business school student, without any of the credentials to do a PhD in Daoist studies. A careful professor would have said “First do three years of classical Chinese and two of history, and we’ll talk.” He didn’t; he just trusted me, and I started right away. He set some high hurdles along the road, so that I understood this was serious business, but at key moments, he made very sure I understood he really cared for me, as he did with so many other students. I spent quite a few days and nights at his house in Leiden in the 1990s; we cooked together, we talked for nights on end, his library was mine to use.  I’ll treasure these days forever. He did not ask for anything in return; he just wanted passionate people to explore a land he had opened for us – the “other China” (or “Real China”). That a young person felt so strongly about the beauty of Daoism made him happy. After I graduated, he secured me an interview for a postdoc position in the Netherlands, and gave me his best suit to wear so that I looked good (suits are not quite my thing…); I got the job but just afterwards got an ever better position at CNRS. He was happy as he was whenever one of his students scored some success,  which in the end amounts to a lot. 

The graduate days with Rik are a very sweet memory. His seminar was on Saturday morning, 10-12am, in the Sorbonne, around the huge wooden table that has since – very sadly – gone. He brought texts for us to read together: everything, hagiography, Zhuangzi, his own liturgical manuals (especially during the last year, 1999-2000). He read, in beautiful-sounding wenyan, translated, explained, and commented at length, but he tried to extract our own insights. He was witty, but attentive to what we had to say. Then, at 12am, we moved out of La vieille Sorbonne, and into an Italian restaurant. And for the happy few this was a happy continuation of the intellectual feast, now together with more substantial fare as well – which as a true Daoist, he loved to the full.  

How did Rik teach and inspire students? Over the years, I have taken to compare him to visionary mathematicians who clearly see deep patterns where many others see factual fog. He often – and this, while always there, became more and more prevalent as he grew older – pronounced bold, occasionally outrageous claims. The more sedate sinologists would brush them aside, saying there was no proof. The more curious among us would take the hint and work on it, always fruitfully. Rik himself did that too: he was extremely good with the philological skills, and could make a compelling point with all the finest details. But his insights were too many for him to tackle alone, outpouring to no end, so he shared them. A couple of my books are basically the end result of exploring a couple sentences he said or wrote. My Chinese beef taboo book (2005) is a side-product of cooking dinner with him. Some of his initial statements may have been factually wrong – which does not make any difference whatever: they opened entirely new territories, new ways of thinking. Just exploring them was exhilarating and mind-opening in a way no beaten-track topic can be. And, be assured, there is much more left to explore among the hints he left. 

There is no imitating Rik and each of us has to find out her or his best way to be a great scholar and a great human being. I certainly wish I could one day be as generous and outpouring as he was.  He had learnt – the hardest way – about generosity and transmission from both his native and adoptive families. This most precious burden in on us now is to assume this generosity and transmit it in turn.  


A remembrance by Prof. Franciscus Verellen

English translation: 


The doyen of Daoist studies Kristofer Marinus Schipper (1934-2021) passed away in Amsterdam on February 18, 2021, aged 86. A former member of the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (1962-1972), Kristofer Schipper carried out fieldwork on the living liturgical tradition of Daoism in Taiwan that would launch half a century of path-breaking research into “China’s high religion,” transform our understanding of religious life in the Chinese world, and foster new approaches to the study of Chinese religion and society in East Asia and the West.

A member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Kristofer Schipper was director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Collège de France, from 1987 to 1992. As professor of Chinese History at the University of Leiden and professor in the History of Daoism at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, he trained a generation of specialists in Chinese religion, many of whom carry on his legacy today. His unending supply of far-sighted intuitions was at the origin of some of the most fruitful international research projects in recent years.

In addition to countless specialist studies on the ritual and text traditions of Daoism and his essential contributions to The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang (University of Chicago Press, 2004), the most ambitious project he initiated, we owe Kristofer Schipper the most comprehensive introductions to Daoism in The Taoist Body(trans. Karen C. Duval, University of California Press, 1993) and La religion de la Chine: la tradition vivante (Fayard, 2008), not to mention a complete translation into Dutch of the Zhuangzi, one of his absorbing interests in later years (Zhuang Zi, De volledige geschriften, Uitgeverij Augustus, 2007).

Kristofer Schipper leaves behind his wife Yuan Bingling, their daughter Maya, and his wife and two daughters from a first marriage. The field of Chinese religion has lost a pioneering scholar and an inspiring teacher, those who were privileged to know him and work by his side, a rare friend and colleague.


A remembrance by Prof. Brigitte Baptandier

Nous avons la  grande tristesse de faire part de la disparition du Professeur Kristofer Schipper survenue hier, 18 février, à l’hôpital à Amsterdam, où il était entouré par sa famille. Il avait 86 ans.

Chercheur à l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (1962-1972), affecté à Taïwan de 1962 à 1970 pour y effectuer une longue recherche de terrain de huit années sur le rituel taoïste, Professeur Schipper a été membre du Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative (1974-1995), où il a dirigé plusieurs thèses. Directeur d’Études  à l’École Pratique des Hautes Études, Section Sciences religieuses, ses recherches portaient sur le taoïsme (1972-2000). Il fut aussi Professeur à l’université de Leiden, où il enseignait la Culture Chinoise. Directeur de l’Institut des hautes études chinoises au Collège de France, il fut encore,  notamment, responsable de deux groupes de recherche au CNRS : « Bibliographie taoïste » (1979-1985) et « Pékin ville sainte » (1996-1999). Il a enseigné à l’université de Fuzhou (Fujian, RPC) où il a fondé la « Bibliothèque du Belvédère occidental » (Xiguan cangshulou 西觀藏書樓) dans l’intention de rendre plus accessible la littérature occidentale.
Ses publications ont marqué le champ des recherches sur les religions chinoises.  Pour n'en citer que deux parmi les plus notables : Le Corps taoïste. Corps physique, corps social (Paris, Fayard, 1982) et  The Taoist Canon (éd. Kristofer Schipper and Franciscus Verellen, University of Chicago Press, 2005).  

Plus d’informations seront données ultérieurement, nous ne pouvons pour le moment que partager notre peine.


Remembrances by his Chinese colleagues collected by Prof. Lü Pengzhi

Remembrance by Prof. Lü Chuikuan 呂錘寬

A remembrance by Prof. John Lagerway

In English translation:

I have just learned of the death of Kristofer Schipper, a man whose discoveries changed the direction of Global Sinology, who also had an extraordinary impact on his many students, including myself. Coming from the United States at the end of 1975 for what was not yet called "post-doctoral" studies, Mr. Schipper's classes bowled me over. Harvard, where I had just obtained my PhD in Ancient Chinese Literature, was still a bastion of the conservative view of Chinese history that Confucianism was not a religion, Buddhism had been in decline since the Tang and Taoism was superstition. The only English-language book on Taoism at the time was Holmes Welch's Taoism: The parting of the Way, where he advanced the traditional argument that Lao-Zhuang's philosophical Taoism was one of the glories of Chinese civilization, while the religious Taoism of the Han period was a deviant form, a sign of decay. If I came to France in 1975, it was to study with Schipper and Max Kaltenmark, because I had read their books and suspected that there was more to be said about China than what I had learned at Harvard. I was not disappointed, on the contrary, I was profoundly shaken. By following the course of Mr. Kaltenmark, which was in 1975-76 on the Taishang lingbao wufuxu, especially by reading the myth of Yu the Great in that book, I realized that I had not understood anything about my thesis, the Wu-Yue chunqiu. But it was Mr. Schipper's two courses in that same year - one introductory to Chinese religion, the other on the Huangshu guoduyi - and perhaps even more the weekly reading I did every Wednesday night with him from the Laozi zhongjing – that really transformed my vision of China: not only is China a “religious” country like all others, it has produced its own higher religion. From then on, for me, the study of religious Taoism became that of the "repressed" -occulted - chapter of Chinese history. My second year in France brought other upheavals, notably because of the arrival in the spring of 1977 of Schipper's "brother", the Taoist master Chen Rongsheng from Taiwan. It was through his two courses in the Minnan language, on funeral rites and on the ritual of Audience, that I learned - thanks to the oral translations that Schipper did during the lessons - the centrality of ritual in Taoism. At a time when rites were still widely regarded as forms of a spiritually inert religion, even as expressions of obsessive psychology, Taoism's appeal to me was its promise to overturn not only my view of China, but also the religious anthropology of the Calvinism of my youth. This moment of personal transformation found its most striking expression in the garden of Kristofer Schipper, where, with Chen Rongsheng as Gaogong, me and Patrice Fava as cantors and Brigitte Petit-Archambault and Cécile Léon as procession and incense attendants, we celebrated Laozi's birthday on the fifteenth day of the second month of 1977. I knew from this experience that I had to devote myself entirely to the study of Taoist ritual. There would be a lot more to tell, especially about the years of the Daozang Project, but with this first draft I wished to recall my personal debt to the teaching of Kristofer Schipper.


A remembrance by Prof Lee Fong-mao

I knew Professor Schipper during his fieldwork in Tainan, but my most profound memory is from the Yellow Register Ritual commemorating the ascension of Master Chen Rongsheng. These two scenes clearly point to the Schipper’s opening up Taiwan for fieldwork and inspiring a succeeding generation of students to establish a Sinological tradition in the West while also stimulating scholars in Japan and Taiwan to study their native traditions. Before Schipper, Daoist Studies had not moved beyond analysis of the scriptures collected in the Daoist Canon. But besides a little field observation, personal experience of lived practice was regrettably absent for scholars of Daoism. These aspects of Daoism were all integrated by Schipper, who, while situated within the French Sinological tradition, became, perhaps unwittingly, an inspirational model for later scholars and thus established a shared field of study.

            I remember that as a visiting scholar in Paris, I not only met the Daoist scholars working there, but had the opportunity to look at Schipper’s precious collection of manuscripts, ranging from ritual manuals to Taiwanese liturgical plays, and much more. While having considerable impact on Taiwanese academia, it is difficult to underestimate the full value of the precious items in this collection. It is, however, important that we recognize that Professor Schipper persevered and succeeded to elevate Daoist studies to prominence against prevailing disinterest in both Taiwanese academia, which ignored Daoism, and Western Sinology, that remained relatively unwelcoming. These observations and impressions are based on my own work in Taiwan. And, even after last year’s centenary of May Fourth, has the academic world really changed its attitude to Daoism? On a remote island, as I ponder the departure of an outstanding Sinologist of our generation, I feel the best commemoration would be to continue to develop the future of Daoist Studies, which continues to be a long and lonely path.              






A remembrance by Prof. Stephen Bokenkamp

In memoriam Kristofer Marinus Schipper, 1934-2021

                                                Stephen R. Bokenkamp

27 February 2021


When I first learned of the passing of Kristofer Marinus Schipper, like anyone experiencing the death of an acquaintance – an all too frequent occurrence for all of us recently -- I felt a sinking pain in the solar plexus. Flee or hide? 

Gradually, the reality began to sink in and my thoughts were flooded with images: Professor Schipper (I could never call him “Rik”) in Tokyo, 1985 or so, telling me earnestly that I should…I forget what it was, but it was probably good advice and I hope that I followed it; or at the first Chinese-sponsored international Daoist Studies conference in Beijing, 1996 — an event cautiously titled symposium on “Daoist Culture,” spelled道家文化 (no Daoists here!) —  when, at the banquet on the last night when the Korean contingent, it being National Liberation Day, sang a patriotic song and the Japanese group was starting to act offended, Schipper took the microphone and, beating time on it with a chopstick, sang a Taiwanese Daoist hymn, calming everyone down and reminding us why we were there; or at some conference in Shanghai, where I first met his daughter Maya, I think she must have been five or so at the time; or the same secret pride I could see emanating from him at our gathering at Aussois.  These and other images have been swirling through my heart and head for days now.  It might be actually how 白日昇天actually happens. But then I remembered the words of Lü Dongbin that Schipper himself cited: “If you see the Master, dismiss him from your mind.”

Everyone who knew the man will have their own Professor Schipper with them until they too become ascendant, so that is likely good advice. My Professor Schipper is not yours.  But what I want to try to communicate in this note is something about this man that is even more rare on this earth and worthy of commemoration than the individual memories we all have.

There are only a few scholars, very few, maybe one in a generation, who are able to survey the lineaments of a field of study and discern the possibilities that lie hidden in directions not taken. Often those directions themselves are open to view in afterthought, plain on the ground. 

I am thinking of feats of the scholarly imagination that changed the world, like what George Lyman Kittredge did for the collection of American ballads and folklore and their comparison with the songs of their European and African places of origin.  Or what Albert B. Lord accomplished through connecting the composition practice of Serbian folk minstrels with the epics of Homer and the unknown authors of Beowulf.

Schipper’s accomplishments we all know…or should: his fieldwork in Taiwan in the 60s; his numerous pathbreaking publications; his sponsorship of the Projet Tao-tsang and the eventual publication with Franciscus Verellen of the important The Taoist Canon; the many leaders in Daoist scholarship whom he trained.  But I would want us to remember the insight that made all of these things possible. Though it sounds simple in the many formulations Professor Schipper gave it, it is a brilliant inspiration concerning what is important in Chinese culture.  The call reverberates throughout Professor Schipper’s work and teaching.  Vincent recalls for us one formulation: it is important not to forget “the Other China,” the “Real China” as expressed in the traditions and customs of the people -- often through Daoism, that is.  Another way he put the same inspiration was instrumental in helping to secure funding for the Projet Tao-tsang: “Daoism is part of the world cultural gene bank,” “something too important to be left to the Chinese people alone.”  

It is fascinating to me, now that I have dismissed the vision of the Master from my mind for a bit, the better to hear him, how this startling insight that, say, the Daoist Masters working among the people in Tai-nan might represent the important treasures of a culture more accurately than thousands of editorially-altered books, seems so apposite to the rustic things that Kittredge and Lord and other geniuses took as their fields of study. We make things too difficult for ourselves sometimes. Professor Schipper leads us to a consideration of what is to be found in the quotidian, the unremarked, or the repressed where we live our lives.  Thank you, Professor Schipper.


A remembrance by Prof. Terry Kleeman


Kristofer M. Schipper

A Remembrance


            I arrived in Paris on Bastille Day, 1986. I was, to be honest, a bit bewildered, a new father with a 4 month-old daughter in tow, blundering into an intricate and tradition-bound academic culture with poor French and little international experience. From the beginning, Professor Schipper recognized the challenges of my “year in Paris” and did all he could to ease my way. In addition to his seminar at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, we met weekly in his home on rue Hallé, reading through the text of the Book of Transformations 文昌化書 chapter by chapter in front of his immense altar of gods. His insightful comments on passage after passage opened my eyes to how this text was tied to daily practice and interwoven with Chinese society, transforming my understanding of a religion to which I had already dedicated a decade of study. I noted then how Rik was concerned with the personal lives of his students, more like a Chinese 老師 than a Western professor, and when I had a falling out with my advisor over my plans, he was there to support me and show me a way forward. Our entire field has been shaped by his scholarship, indeed, it is hard to imagine the field without him, but I will always be most grateful for my year of tutelage at the feet of the master.


Terry F. Kleeman

Exchange student at EPHE, 1986-87