Shi Zhouren, Sinologist: “My lifetime pursuit has been the study of Chinese culture.”

Shi Zhouren (Professor Kristofer Schipper) was born in Sweden in 1934 and speaks 8 languages. He has devoted all his life to the study of Sinology and founded the first library in China focused on Western humanities.

Professor Kristofer Schipper (Shi Zhouren)
Professor Kristofer Schipper (Shi Zhouren)

Confucius Institute Reporter
Liu Guangyu 
As  one of top scholars in the world, he is known for formulating the concept of the “Gene Bank of Culture”. He was conferred the “Knight of the French Legion of Honor” by the French President. He was awarded the “Friendship Medal”, the highest honor that the Chinese government can give to a foreign scholar living in China. As a gifted person, who has a good command of 8 languages, he has devoted all his life to the study of Sinology. He is Professor Kristofer Schipper, member of the Royal Academy of the Netherlands, distinguished professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands and founder of the Library of Western Belvedere, the first library in China focused on collecting books on Western humanities.

Mr. Kristofer Schipper was born in Sweden in 1934, and grew up in the Netherlands. In 2001, he settled with his family in China and became a permanent citizen as a result of his extraordinary love for China.

His Chinese name is Shi Zhouren, which gives us a clue of his infatuation and good command of Chinese. According to his explanation, he used the character “zhou” because it carries deep significance in Taoism. Lao Zi, the creator of Taoism, lived in the Zhou Dynasty. Zhuang Zi, the major representative of Taoism, is also called Zhuang Zhou. Both Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi have the character “Zhou” in their names, hence Mr. Schipper decided to call himself “Zhouren”. At the same time, the literal meaning of the character “zhou” is “boat”, which reflects his desire to be a boat ferrying people between Western and Eastern cultures.

“Sinology is very hard to study. It is very difficult to be a Chinese scholar, and it is even more difficult to be a scholar studying sinology. Can you imagine how much harder it would be to be a foreign sinologist?.”

Professor Shi Zhouren is exactly what his name implies. He has long devoted himself to the study of Chinese culture and achieved profound depths in Sinology. He is especially well-known for his research in Taoism. At the same time, he has made a lot of achievements in the study of the history of ancient Chinese ideology, Chinese cultural history, and religious anthropology. He wrote over ten books, such as The Taoist Body, The Taoist Canon, and the Gene Bank of Chinese Culture. As a result, he enjoys great reputation in the circle of international sinology. Professor Shi has absorbed himself in sinology for dozens of years and has accumulated a great amount of sinological achievements, bringing him many academic honors. He had held important academic positions, such as Director of the Sinological Institutes in Paris and Leiden.

With great academic achievements, Professor Schipper could have lived quite comfortably in Europe, since the research environment and living conditions are far better than in China. However, the ancient and mysterious land of China proved to be irresistible to this old man who is infatuated with Sinology. To him, material wealth means nothing in comparison.

His life has been greatly influenced by his strong attraction to Chinese culture. He was attracted to Chinese art when he was a little boy. He specialized in classic Latin and Greek when he studied in middle school at Amsterdam. Then, he went to University De Paris to study Chinese, Japanese, Art History of the Far East and Religious Anthropology. Later, he studied Chinese history and culture under Professor Max Kaltenmark, a famous French sinologist. In 1962, he went to Tainan of Chinese Taiwan as a visiting scholar after he received his PhD. In 1972, he was offered the position of a lecturer on History of Chinese Religion by the France High Research Academy. In 1976, he established the European Association of Chinese Studies. In 1979, Mr. Schipper left for Beijing for research. He took the initiative to organize the “Holy Beijing” program, a large-scale international sinology event that was participated by French National Center for Scientific Research, University of Leiden in the Netherlands, Peking University and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In 2001, together with his family, Mr. Schipper moved to Fuzhou, China, and established the Library of Western Belvedere, the first library in China focused on collecting books on Western humanities.

Currently Shi Zhouren is working for the Confucius Institute Headquarters translating the Five Classics, namely The Book of Songs, The Book of History, The Book of Rites, The Book of Changes, and The Spring and Autumn Annals. Throughout his continuous pursuit of Chinese culture, Mr. Schipper has quietly tasted all the different flavors in his sinology research work. Here are some of his heartfelt words:

“Sinology is very hard to study. It is very difficult to be a Chinese scholar, and it is even more difficult to be a scholar studying sinology. Can you imagine how much harder it would be to be a foreign sinologist? This is the challenge I have to face in my life. It is my destiny that I can’t rest this lifetime.”


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Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 01. 
Volume III. May 2010.

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