The Divine Legacy of a Dutch Taoist

Kristofer Schipper’s decision to approach Taoism as a living, breathing religion was revolutionary.

It was a drizzly day in early April when I caught a high-speed train from Shanghai to the nearby city of Suzhou to participate in the sixth “Seven-Day Ritual of Ascension” for Kristofer Schipper, the renowned Dutch expert on Taoism who passed away on Feb. 18, 2021.

Traditionally, Chinese believe that for the 49 days following a person’s death their soul continues to wander the earth. Every seven days, people who knew or respected the deceased will take part in religious ceremonies in their honor, as a way of helping their soul accumulate gongde, or “merit,” and avoid suffering in the underworld. April 1 was the six-week anniversary of Professor Schipper’s death. Initiated by French anthropologist and former Schipper student Patrice Fava, Taoist priests from Suzhou and nearby Changshu City had organized a ritual in his honor to invoke the aid of two Taoist deities: the Celestial Worthy Who Relieves Suffering and the Mother of the Dipper.

When I arrived at Xuanmiao Temple in Suzhou, the priests were busy arranging the altar and lectern. A table near the entrance was laden with sacrificial offerings including apples, bananas, oranges, vegetables, and rice wine. Candle flames gently swayed from side to side, while wisps of incense rose in the air. The most eye-catching part of the tableau, however, was a 6-foot-tall portrait of Kristofer Schipper — or as he was known in China, Shi Zhouren. The portrait was completed especially for the ceremony by Wang Minyuan, a religious painter and Taoist convert. Done in the traditional Chinese style, it shows a bespectacled Schipper dressed in black and yellow Taoist robes, with a hu ritual baton in his hands. To one side of him is a small table, on which sits an incense burner, ornamental scepter, and thread-bound edition of his classic work “The Taoist Body.” Behind him hangs a screen featuring a map of the sacred Dahuo Mountain Cave. Continue to read the full article here

– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.