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A Brief on Current State of Chinese Digital Humanities Studies.

Digital humanities, as a new research field, is novel for Chinese scholars as well and even there is still no any Chinese names for digital humanity that have been accepted nation-wide. To be more precisely, the scholars in Taiwan have accepted an academic translation “數位人文學”. Taiwan started to preform such researches much earlier than that in China and has achieved great progresses on it. Since Taiwan who shares the same culture and history with China despite of political issues has accumulated plenty experiences on such researches, many current digital humanities studies in China appear in form of cooperating programs with Taiwan and abroad academies. Most interestingly, the structure of Chinese digital humanity research teams are “bottom-up” that most of scholars of digital humanities in China are young and even students.

This case I am going to introduce is carried by a bachelor candidate in Peking University who is expected to graduate in the summer of 2013 studying on how to utilizing social-networking method to analyze the relations among Neo-Confucians from 1160 to 1241. He focused on the relations between literati aiming to provide a brand fresh perspective to historical research of that period instead of traditional attributes-oriented methods.

Author and Background

The case to introduce is in draft version prepared for the Annual Meeting of Social Science History Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1-4 November 2012, written by Han ZHANG and can be downloaded here.

As a preliminary claim, during this case study many opinions and sentences are directly quoted from the paper which would be not marked explicitly, which is granted by the author. Moreover, the issues about copyrights should be negotiated with the author directly.

The major data source of this research case is from a joint program named after “China Biographical Database Project (CBDB)” involving three academies in USA, Taiwan and China including Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, Institute of History and Philology of Academia Sinica, Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History at Peking University aimed to provide an online relational database with biographical information primarily from the 7th through 19th centuries of China.

About Neo-Confucianism

Neo-Confucianism (simplified Chinese: 宋明理学; traditional Chinese: 宋明理學; pinyin: Song-Ming Lǐxué often shortened to 理學) is a moral, ethical, and metaphysical Chinese philosophy influenced by Confucianism, and originated with Han Yu and Li Ao (772-841) in the Tang Dynasty, and became prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties.

In this case, we concentrated on 1160-1241 as the last century Southern Song Dynasty when Neo-Confucianism booming with the transformation from parallel theoretical development of several literati including Zhu Xi, Lü Zuqian, Zhang Shi and Lu Jiuyuan to ascendancy of Zhu Xi’s idea.

Advantage of Relational Methodology on Neo-Confucians

According to Han ZHANG’s opinion, most of “pure philosophy” study of Neo-Confucianism will focus on the main figures who contributed most to the development of “universal ideas”, which may be misleading because this kind research is inevitable with the assumption that works of philosophers contain “dataless wisdom” which can transcend the historical process of fame gaining. He thought that the genesis of the development of Neo-Confucianism should follow the eyes of contemporaries of philosophers, instead of the canons of philosophy, which rely on the accumulated fame of the philosopher while quoting Tillman’s and Bol’s works to illustrating the proper reasons.

However, many other scholars defining their research scope by setting some attributes which may include spatial trajectory, grand councilors and so on to restrain the social boundary. They believed that they are glancing at ancient figures in a bird’s-eye view hence they can reconstruct the social boundaries and assign those figures into different social groups.

In Han’s paper, he argued that the study of Neo-Confucians should pay more attention to the continuous process of Neo-Confucianism intellectuals groups’ boundary making and classification scheme in their eyes which delimit members of the group with “the others”. The process of boundary making is accompanied with the formation, development and decay of the Neo-Confucianism. The identity of Neo-Confucian should not be a fixed list of indivduals who constituted a cohesive community, but rather a fluid social aggregation. Using relations instead of attributes will be a better illustration for the study of sociology of philosophers.

Thus, social networking analysis would be efficient tool to sketch a large group that contains hundreds of members avoiding just selecting some “representative” figures which may lead to preconceived ideas in the study of philosophy.

Social-networking processing

According to the social networking theories, a society can be described as a network which is composed of nodes and edges – where nodes are individuals and edges are connections between those actors.

Internal Social Group Study

Han define group membership. He chose some figures like Zhu Xi, Lü Zuqian, Zhang Shi, Lu Jiuyuan and Chen Liang as starting point and then begin a snow-sampling process. Many literati are added as nodes while relationships such as friends, teacher and student, rivals would be added into the graph as edges.

He expanded the academic network from 5 leading philosophers to 88 from 1170 to 1180 as illustrated below.

Neo-Confucians in 1170-1180

However, after the death of Lü Zuqian and Zhang Shi during 1180 and 1181 and Chen Liang and Lu Jiuyuan during 1193-1994, the whole network reconstruct into a new form like the solar system as Zhu Xi being the sun, which is figured below.

Neo-Confucians after 1194

The interesting transformation of social structure inevitably implies the fact that many students of other literati following Zhu Xi after their teachers died diminished the influence of those literal-i’s. It is also indispensable for Zhu Xi’s predominant reputation in later dynasties.

EXTernal Social Group Study

The social-networking method could not only used on look into internal group boundaries but also the external that Neo-Confucians’ connections with other Literati.

The author construct a social network which is based on the social writing relations which would be an implication of the underlying social connection. Social writing being referred as the text with the social practise bounded on, includes genres of epitaphs, biographies, postfaces/prefaces, ritual texts and etc.. Utilizing the snowball sampling that starts from Zhu Xi, Lü Zuqian, Lu Jiuyuan, Zhang Shi and Chen Liang, he gets 517 individuals and 1772 edges in the first round snowball.

Social Writing Relations

Han introduced such analysis on the social, political and cultural capital status of Neo-Confucians as well and have acquired some first-hand data to perform further researches.

As a summary of Han ZHANG’s paper, he expressed his opionion from quite explicit conclusion of the social network stucture and its changs, which is that inner debates and alliance between Neo-Confucians accelerated the crystallization process of Neo-Confucianism and for the external side Neo-Confucians still occupied a dominant position in political, social and especially in cultural fields against other intellectuals. His explantions oriented from exhaustive data somehow challenge some current academic viewpoints and provide a new perspective to Neo-Confucianism studies.