Kristofer Schipper, Influential China Scholar, Dies at 86
Early in the afternoon on Thursday, in the southern Chinese city of Suzhou, more than 50 people gathered in a Taoist temple for a 10-hour ceremony to bid farewell to one of the most influential China scholars of recent times.
But this wasn’t to honor a professor at one of China’s great universities; instead it was for Kristofer Schipper, a Dutch Sinologist whose work helped usher in a fundamental shift in how people think of Chinese religion and society.
Professor Schipper died at 86 on Feb. 18 in Amsterdam after developing a blood clot in his stomach, said a friend and former student, Vincent Goossaert.
Professor Schipper had made Taoism his life’s work, helping to elevate it from a widely disregarded faith to a religious tradition that is regularly included in global discussions of current issues like climate change.
More important, his ideas contributed to an understanding of how Chinese society has been organized through its history — by local autonomous groups often centered on temples rather than the emperor and his vaunted bureaucracy, as historians have traditionally tended to depict it.
An ordained Taoist priest, Professor Schipper combined firsthand knowledge of rural religious life with deep textual study of classical Chinese.
“He was able to show that there was a religion of the people of China that was deeply connected to local forms of self-organization and self-government,” said Kenneth Dean, head of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. “It was part of a change in how people described Chinese society.”
Professor Schipper is best known for his book “The Taoist Body” (1994), which was written for the general reader. It shows how many seemingly disparate elements of Chinese culture — martial arts, art, cuisine, rituals, holidays, medicine and much local religious life — are imbued with Taoist concepts. That helped broaden how Taoism is defined, from being known for a few philosophical texts and local religious practices to being seen as encompassing a huge swath of Chinese culture and society.
施舟人以其著作《道体论》(The Taoist Body, 1994)而著称。这本为普通读者而写的书说明了中国文化中许多看似完全不同的元素——武术、艺术、烹饪、仪式、节日、医药和许多当地的宗教生活——都充满了道教观念。这帮助拓宽了道教的定义范围，从曾经仅限于少数哲学著作和当地宗教仪式，到现在被视为涵盖了中国文化和社会的大部分范畴。
Among scholars, Professor Schipper’s most influential work was as co-editor, with Franciscus Verellen, of a monumental three-volume work, “The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang.” Totaling 1,800 pages, it was the first time that the 1,500 core texts of Taoism were systemically arranged and described. The project lasted nearly 30 years and involved dozens of scholars from around the world — an effort that many say created the modern field of Taoist studies.
在学者眼中，施舟人最具影响力的著作是与傅飞岚(Franciscus Verellen)共同编辑的三卷巨著《道藏通考》(The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang)。全书共1800页，首次系统地整理和描述了1500部道教核心经文。该项目历时近30年，吸引了来自世界各地的数十名学者，许多人认为这是现代道教研究的开山之作。
Kristofer Marinus Schipper, who was known as Rik, was born on Oct. 23 1934, in Schardam, a rural town north of Amsterdam. His father, Klaas Abe Schipper, was a Mennonite pastor, and his mother, Johanna (Kuiper) Schipper, was a devout believer. Their religious convictions inspired the couple to hide Jews during the German occupation of Holland in World War II.
施舟人全名克里斯托弗·马里努斯·席佩尔(Kristofer Marinus Schipper)，1934年10月23日出生于阿姆斯特丹以北的乡野小镇查尔丹。他的父亲克拉斯·埃博·席佩尔(Klaas Abe Schipper)是一名门诺派牧师，母亲乔安娜·席佩尔（Johanna Schipper，婚前姓柯伊伯[Kuiper]）则是该教的虔诚信徒。宗教信仰促使这对夫妇在二战德国占领荷兰期间帮助犹太人躲藏。
His father was detained and interrogated twice, each time for several months. His mother fled to Amsterdam, taking young Rik and several Jewish children to hide in safe homes.
The family survived the war, but his father’s health suffered, and he died in 1949 at 42. (For their efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews, the couple were later declared “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center.)
The wartime experience had a profound effect on Professor Schipper.
“This really shaped his worldview, both his hatred of nationalism and his deeply humanistic preference for local democracy instead of great national narratives,” said Professor Goossaert, who teaches religious studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. “That’s how he read Taoism.”
“这深深地塑造了他的世界观，包括对民族主义的仇恨，以及一种深沉的人文主义倾向，偏好地方性的民主而非宏大的民族叙事，”在巴黎高等研究应用学院(École Pratique des Hautes Études)教授宗教学的高万桑说。“这就是他对道教的理解。”
Professor Schipper came to that realization slowly. He moved to Paris to study with the French Sinologist Max Kaltenmark, one of a series of French scholars who took Taoism seriously. Most academics, however, focused on the more traditional philological study of deciphering often-obscure Taoist texts.
In 1962, Professor Schipper went to Taiwan to study at the Academia Sinica and, according to a story he liked to tell his students, was told that Taoism did not exist as a religion.
Yet in towns and villages he encountered Taoist temples where priests were using texts from the Taoist canon in ceremonies. They had little formal education but had learned classical Chinese from their masters, often their fathers; they belonged to a school of Taoism that was passed down patrilineally. Some of the priests had lineages reaching back 1,000 years, evidence that the religion of antiquity and the present were linked.
Professor Schipper realized that he had to be a participant observer and began studying with a Taoist master, Chen Rongsheng, in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan. He was ordained a priest of the Way of Orthodox Unity, or Zhengyidao, school.
After eight years, he returned to Paris with a cache of ritual manuals that his teachers had given him. An ardent Parisian, he acquired French citizenship and took a position at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where he began systematically researching the Taoist canon.
Professor Schipper was perhaps most influential through his students. An estimated 15 of them became professors of religious studies, but many dozens more went to Paris to be near him. He brought them into his orbit, invited them to live at his home, gave them full use of his library, lent one of them his best suit for his first job interview, and performed Taoist ceremonies when their children were born or when they got married.
Mostly, he sent his acolytes off to work on mammoth projects, like listing and documenting all the temples in Beijing, a 10-volume project that a decade later is only half complete.
His ideas on the centrality of religion in Chinese history spread in the academy through his students. Two of them, Professor Goossaert and David A. Palmer, wrote an award-winning book that showed how traditional Chinese religion had been central to how Chinese society was organized, with temples functioning as a cross between cathedral and city hall.
他关于宗教在中国历史上的中心地位的观点，通过他的学生在学界得到传播。其中两人——高万桑和宗树人(David A. Palmer)——撰写了一部屡获殊荣的书，展示了传统的中国宗教如何成为中国社会组织方式的核心，而宗教场所则成了兼具教堂和市政厅功能的地方。
The key role that religion played in organizing society helped explain why Chinese reformers from the late-19th century onward had attacked traditional religious practices as part of an antiquated system that they felt was holding the country back. Their movement ushered in a wave of temple destruction that eliminated an estimated 90 percent of China’s religious infrastructure.
“Rik’s great contribution was to make us aware that the living religious tradition of rural China could be traced back hundreds or thousands of years,” said Michael Szonyi, head of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. “And this meant that Taoism isn’t ‘feudal superstition’ but China’s indigenous religious tradition.”
“施舟人的巨大贡献是使我们意识到中国农村的宗教传统可以追溯到几百年或上千年前，”哈佛大学费正清中国研究中心(Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies)负责人宋怡明(Michael Szonyi)表示。“这意味着道教不是‘封建迷信’，而是中国的原生宗教传统。”
Professor Schipper is survived by his wife, Yuan Bingling and their daughter Maya, as well as two daughters from a previous marriage, Esther and Johanna.
After retiring in 2003, he moved to the Chinese city of Fuzhou, where he established a library. He was highly influential in China, where his ideas spread.
“He said Chinese society was organized around many, many small temples,” said Ju Xi, an anthropology professor at Beijing Normal University, who counted Professor Schipper as a mentor. “So we have to understand how these temples organized people; then we can understand Chinese society.”
Professor Ju said she was shocked when, a few years ago, Professor Schipper told her his latest plan: to methodically list all the written material about all 108 holy Taoist locations in China and conduct exhaustive interviews with people inhabiting them — a project so vast that it could never be completed in his lifetime.
“Four days before he died, he phoned me for more than an hour and was still talking about how to research these holy sites,” Professor Ju said. “He was still thinking of China.”
The feeling was mutual. A temple among the 108 holy sites, Mount Huotong, held a funeral ceremony for him; the Suzhou temple held another one.
Tao Jin, an architect and Taoist believer, commissioned a local artist to paint Mr. Schipper in his Taoist robes. The painting was placed on the altar, and in a long ceremony priests blessed Professor Schipper in the afterlife.
“He understood that Chinese religion is a living tradition,” Mr. Tao said. “So you need to understand it by talking to living people.”