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Ksenia Borisovna

Doctor of Sciences (equiv. Habilitation) - Philology
(07.02.1937 — 13.12.2002)
Ksenia Borisovna Kepping was born on February 7, 1937, in Tianjin, China, into a family of Russian expatriates. Her father, an officer of the White Army, initially found himself in Harbin after the October Revolution and Civil War. When he married a sister of Metropolitan Viktor, the last chief of the Russian Orthodox Mission in China and thus entered this family, he settled in Tianjin where Ksenia was born. His Eminence Viktor, even after the revolution, remained a Russian/Soviet subject and, having no children of his own, took much care to keep his niece both Russian and Orthodox, in total accordance with her parents’ will. She never demonstrated bluntly her belonging to the Orthodox Church, considering it a deeply personal matter. Ksenia was educated at school organized by the community of Soviet citizens in Tianjin (1945-54). Meanwhile the Spiritual Mission in Beijing was closed and the entire family of Metropolitan Viktor was repatriated to the USSR, by their own will. Like most of the children of Russian expatriates, Ksenia possessed Russian very well, but Chinese was also quite familiar to her from the very childhood. I remember how she was glad to meet in a train some young Chinese from Tianjin and to hear not just Chinese but her “native” Tianjin dialect.

The motherland received their family, just like many other expatriates, without celebration. Metropolitan Viktor was sent by the Church authorities to Krasnodar where he headed the local Eparchy and kept this position until his death in 1966. All the other members of the family were sent to Central Asia. Ksenia managed to be admitted to the Central Asian State University in Tashkent, and in 1955 she was moved, thanks to the efforts of her uncle, to Leningrad State University, the Faculty of Oriental Studies, the Department of Chinese Philology which she graduated from in 1959, after which she was enrolled to the staff of the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, where she worked until her very last day. At the Institute K.B.Kepping immediately turned to academic activities and, notwithstanding some personal problems, started, in 1966, doctoral course. The object of her studies was the Tangut language, which had been plunged into oblivion for a very long time. Its written heritage, all in all around 9,000 items, is kept at the Institute as an unique collection of P.K.Kozlov. In Tangut studies she had predecessors, first of all A.I.Ivanov and N.A.Nevsky, both executed in 1937, the latter being a real founder of academic Tangut studies in the world. At the late 1950s, the study of Tangut history, literature, language and writing was revived by E.I.Kychanov, the now worldwide authority in the field, and M.V.Saphonov who developed his own interpretation of Tangut phonetics. V.S.Kolokolov also tried to get an insight into the system of Tangut writing which is not yet completely deciphered. So it was not an empty place when K.B.Kepping started to study the Tangut language and literature, but she focused on Tangut Grammar. Since at that time almost all Tangut written texts remained unpublished shehad, for her own studies of Grammar, edited some of them. This way, she scrutinized their contents, lexicon (put in original characters), and language peculiarities.

After she, along with E.I.Kychanov, V.S.Kolokolov, and A.P.Terentyev-Katansky, edited the Tangut Tangut dictionary The Sea of Writings (1969), K.B.Kepping edited also a well-known text in her book Sun tzu in the Tangut Translation [Сунь цзы в тангутском переводе] (1979). This work was in core of her PhD dissertation entitled Textological and Grammatical Research into the Tangut Translation of the Chinese Military Treatise “Sun Tzu” along with Commentaries by Three Authors [Текстологические и грамматические исследования тангутского перевода китайского военного трактата Сунь цзы с комментариями трех авторов], defended in 1969. Later followed The Forest of Categories [Лес категорий] (1983), The Newly Acquired Notes on Love to the Juniors and Respect to the Seniors [Вновь собранные записки о любви к младшим и почтении к старшим] (1990). On the basis of her studies of the texts she wrote the first and last monograph of its kind such as The Tangut Language. Morphology [Тангутский язык. Морфология] (1985) and, in 1986, defended the habilitation dissertation entitled The Morphological Order of Tangut and Its Typological Description [Морфологический строй тангутского языка и его типологическая характеристика].

Along with her research achievements K.B.Kepping was gradually advancing her career, though it was not that fast since authorities were not delighted with her being niece of a metropolitan. Nevertheless, by 1970, she was a junior researcher and, by 1985, a leading researcher at the Institute. If we check the list of her published papers, up to 70, we will find that K.B.Kepping was exploring the Tangut language and Grammar step by step. Her academic path consisted of a series of investigations of minor phenomena of the language. Each of her “minor discoveries” was immediately published in her papers or abstracts at various conferences. This way the general view of Tangut Grammar and its typological references was appearing, being summarized in her book The Tangut Language [Тангутский язык] and the habilitation dissertation. But she was not limited herself with the study of Grammar. When editing texts she had to look at various sides of Chinese culture as well as general linguistics issues. Thus, when she studied Sun tzu she had to address to the history of Chinese military science and Chinese tradition of writing commentaries, for The Forest of Categories Chinese history and fiction, for The Notes on Love to the Juniors and Respect to the Seniors ethnographic issues, particularly the Tangut relationship system, for certain grammatical aspects the ergative theory, etc. Sometimes, she was puzzled with unknown phenomena found by her but the riddles were later solved thanks to her patient reading of special literature on various scientific subjects.

After K.B.Kepping published the abovementioned works she moved to the even broader circle of texts. In her last years, she studied intensively Tangut poetical texts such as hymns to the ancestors. Here she faced a number of historical questions such as connected with the very name of the Tanguts, their internal relations, history of contacts with neighboring people, the end of the Tangut state conquered bу Genghis Khan. She was going to publish a monograph on all these subjects.

From 1970, K.B.Kepping and her researchers began gradually to get known abroad. It is not possible to list here all the conferences, symposia and congresses she took part in. It suffices to mention that she was invited many times to England, Netherlands, Sweden and, what is especially important she had tight contacts with Japanese, Taiwanese, and especially Chinese Tangut scholars. When in 1989-90, K.B.Kepping was sent to China for an academic training she spent half a year at the Beijing Institute of National Minorities Shi Jinbo, who headed the Chinese Tangut studies, was her supervisor. She also had constant contacts with Bai Bin, Li Fan-wen and other important scholars. At that time she prepared a series of programs on the Tangut studies and Russian Grammar for Bejing Radio. Moreover, she recorded 30 hours of Russian and Tangut lessons for radio and TV. Some time later, K.B.Kepping was invited to become a professor at Ningbo University. K.B.Kepping had big plans of further researches, she was vividly interested in the history of the Beijing Spiritual Mission where her childhood was spent, she was eager to teach... It was not destined to be fulfilled. Academic achievements of K.B.Kepping cannot be argued. Those who knew Ksenia Kepping for many decades will always remember her as an attractive woman, caring and responsive friend, and a person who was always (and sometimes too radically) severe upon herself and others.

Prof Dr L.N.Menshikov
(Ksenia Boprisovna Kepping (1937-2002) [Ксения Борисовна Кепинг (1937-2002)], - in Oriens, 2003, No 4).

Translated by A.Zorin; proofread by S.Wickham-Smith.

Publications ( the entire list as a *.pdf file)


Kepping Ks. Last Works and Documents [Последние статьи и документы]. St Petersburg: Omega Publishers 2003. 360 p.


Kepping K. “The Autumn Wind” by Han Wu-di in the Mi-nia (Tangut) Translation // Manuscripta Orientalia. Vol. 8, No 2, June 2002. P. 36-51.


Kepping K.B. Chinggis Khan's Name Encrypted in a Tangut Song // IDP News, No. 19 Winter 2001 ISSN 1354-5914. С. 2-3.

Kepping Ks. ‘Mi-nia’ (Tangut) Self-appellation and Self-portraiture in Khara Khoto Materials // Manuscripta Orientalia. Vol. 7, No 4, December 2001. P. 37-47.


Kepping K. The Official Name of the Tangut Empire as Reflected in the Native Tangut Texts // Manuscripta Orientalia. Vol. 1, No 3, December 1995. Pp. 22-32.


Лес категорий. Утраченная китайская лэйшу в тангутском переводе. Факсимиле ксилографа / Издание текста, вступительная статья, перевод, комментарий и указатели К.Б.Кепинг. М.: «Наука», ГРВЛ, 1983. («Памятники письменности Востока», XXXVIII).


Сунь Цзы в тангутском переводе. Факсимиле ксилографа / Издание текста, перевод, введение, комментарий, грамматический очерк, словарь и приложение К.Б.Кепинг. Ответственный редактор С.Е.Яхонтов. М.: «Наука», ГРВЛ, 1979. («Памятники письменности Востока», XLIX).


Море письмен. Факсимиле тангутских ксилографов / Перевод с тангутского, вступительные статьи и приложения К.Б.Кепинг, В.С.Колоколова, Е.И.Кычанова и А.П.Терентьева-Катанского. Часть 1. М.: «Наука», ГРВЛ, 1969.

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