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Michael Schimmelpfennig worked as coordinator of the Graduate school for the Study of Religion and Normativity while completing his PhD at the University of Heidelberg. He moved on to work as coordinator and lecturer of the Graduate School for Chinese and Japanese postgraduates' research on "Knowledge Transfer between Europe and China" at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg before taking up a position as lecturer at the Chair of Chinese studies at Erlangen, offering courses in Literary Chinese and graduate seminars on various topics in Chinese literature, history, society, and research methodology. Before joining the ANU in 2013, he served as interim professor of Chinese studies at the University of Frankfurt.

Research interests

Michael Schimmelpfennig's research interests do hardly fit categories of being a specialist in a particular research area. In a more traditional sense he rather regards himself as a sinologist. He studied Chinese archeaology before he developed a deep interest in early traditional Chinese literature and poetry, specialising in the history of textual reception and commentarial interpretation. In more recent work he engages with the history of meaning of Chinese terms for conceptual ideas, in particular those concerning human relations in and beyond the family in China's past and present. Even more recently he began to explore the possibilities offered by Digital Humanities in Chinese Studies, focussing on the computational analysis of large corpora of traditional Chinese texts, in particular the ways to meaningfully employ algorithms in analysing multilayered texts, i. e. text with multiple commentaries.

Current student projects

PhD candidates:

Eugenie Enquist ANU "Wushan in the Tang Dynasty" (co-supervisor)


Honours students:

Siyu Wu ANU "The Impact of Daoist and Buddhist ideas on Liu Jingshu's (around 430 AD) compilation Garden of Marvels (Yiyuan)"

Julian Britton "Studies in Denunciations: An Investigation into Officialdom, Law, and Philosophy in Pre- and Early Imperial China"

Researcher's projects

1) “Delicate Ties: Notions of Loyalty in Traditional and Contemporary Chinese Sources“, monograph.

By means of a genealogical approach I attempt to retrieve the various meanings and usages of the term zhong, conventionally rendered as "loyalty" or "doing one's utmost" that can be found in a range of pre-Qin and early imperial texts like Zuozhuan, Lunyu, Mozi, certain Guodian texts, the minister chapter of Xunzi, Han Feizi, and the Xiaojing. The Zhongjing and the Chengui, the latter attributed to empress Wu Zetian of the Tang dynasty, represent another stage of the survey that will lead up to contemporary handbooks for Chinese entrepreneurs on guanxi and loyalty. To avoid the limitations of a narrow terminological study, the survey in parallel focuses on descriptions of loyal behavior and trust in search of the variant terminology used to describe such behavior in search of possible conceptual differences between the ideas designated by the term.

2) Exegetical History of the Songs of Chu

Aims at understanding the later development of the parameters that – so the hypothesis – among certain other influences guide and restrict research on the Songs of Chu (Chuci) until the present day. Contrary to Laurence Schneider’s excellent but out-dated book Madman of Chu (1980) on the subject, the study concentrates on the hermeneutical techniques and aims of exegesis of certain Song dynasty and later commentators in opposition to their predecessors, with the aim of tracing their possible impact on current Chuci research, especially in the PRC.
This project yielded an APIP grant that allowed me to employ assistants to tag commentaries from two authors to chapters of the Chuci. The present focus lies on developing computational tools to ultimately have a long term look at the development of Songs of Chu interpretation. This was follwed by a CIW grant that allowed me to invite international experts to discuss and find solutions of how to analyse texts with multiple commentaries, i. e. multilayered texts in a workshop Digital Textanalysis in Traditional Chinese Studies conducted on 6-8 December 2019. 

3) Soushenji project

In the research-led teaching conducted in my Advanced Literary Chinese course on Chinese anecdotal literature, students are asked by means of full-text databases of collections of such literature to discover, translate, and to compare stories on related subjects. One outcome of this kind of comparative research is my article entitled "Antlers? Or Horns? Towards Understanding Gan Bao, the Historian" that examines the approach of the historian and editor of Records of an Inquest into the Spirit Realm (Soushen ji).

4) Circulation of Knowledge in Poetry

Collaborator in an European Union ERC Consolidator Grant Application on the topic The Circulation of Knowledge Through Poetic Composition in Medieval China under the lead of Marie Bizais-Lillig (Strasbourg/Paris).

Past student projects


Chen Jiandong (UTS) "Local Authority in the Han Dynasty with a Focus on the San Lao" (completed 2018) [external examiner & external advisor for resubmission]

Honours students:

Samuel Vancea Harrison "Yang Xiong and the Politics of Sagehood: A Reading of Fayan Chapter Eight" (completed 2017) [co-supervisor with Mark Strange]

William (Shu Cheng) Zou "Thinking Beyond Filiality and Unfiliality: The Son's Limited Agency in the Xunzi" (completed 2014)

Jose Timothy Voltaire S Salinas "Moral Autonomy in Confucianism. With a focus on Xunzi" (completed 2015)



MA, PhD (University of Heidelberg)


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