Death of Jacques Pimpaneau, sinologist and professor at Inalco from 1965 to 1999

1 February 2022


It is with great sadness that we have just learned of the death of Professor Jacques Pimpaneau on November 2, 2021.
Jacques Pimpaneau
Jacques Pimpaneau‎
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The President and staff of Inalco wish to pay tribute to his memory and offer his family and friends their deepest condolences.

While working at Gallimard for the Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, where he forged a loyal friendship with Robert Antelme, he had already begun studying Chinese at Langues'O in 1954. He was also a disciple of the great English sinologist David Hawkes. He went to China on one of the first scholarships offered to French students, and studied at Peking University between 1958 and 1960. He was appointed Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Inalco at the age of 29 in 1963, and remained so until his retirement in 1999.

Having been lucky enough to see the great stars of Chinese opera perform during his first stay in China, he continued his exploration of the traditional performing arts during a secondment to the University of Hong Kong from 1968 to 1971. Introduced to Cantonese puppetry by a local troupe - he taught generations of Inalco students how to handle them, and proudly claimed the title of "puppeteer" for himself - he was entrusted by a Hong Kong businessman, Kwok On, with a collection of theatrical objects that was to become, under his direction, the magnificent museum of the same name. Dedicated to the festivals and theaters of Asia, it could be visited in Paris from 1972 until the collection was transferred to the Fundação Oriente in Lisbon in 1994.

His books on theater and the performing arts in China and East Asia are among the first publications on the subject in Western languages. However, with little taste for the confidentiality of academic publications, Jacques Pimpaneau's numerous works were aimed at the widest possible audience: introductory manuals on Chinese culture and literature, numerous translations of ancient and classical literature, and more personal novel variations on Chinese themes. He was also a filmmaker, and, in collaboration with Inalco technicians, made some twenty documentaries on spectacles and religions, in China as well as in India and Tibet. He was also responsible for bringing theater troupes from rural China to France. And it's thanks to his friendship with the great Taiwanese puppeteer Li Tianlu that France now boasts one of the only Chinese doll theater troupes outside Asia, the Théâtre du Petit miroir.

Resistant to all forms of authoritarianism, Jacques Pimpaneau's stays in China further protected him from the sirens of Maoism: during his stay in Hong Kong, it was he who introduced Simon Leys to his future publisher René Viénet, enabling the publication of Habits neufs du président Mao. He gave students a sometimes gruff but invariably generous welcome, going out of his way to facilitate the preparation of their stays in China and their work. Generations of specialists in ancient and modern China remain indebted to him for the discovery of Chinese civilization and its imaginary world.

He was Jean Dubuffet's secretary and a friend of Georges Bataille.