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Network Perspectives on the Study of Chinese History

Author:Chen Yutong; Ye Huaying Date:2019-10-21



Network Perspectives on the Study of Chinese HistorySeptember 23-24, 2019

Room 209, Think Tank Building, Fudan University

Organizer: Henrike Rudolph (卢娴立)




The workshop "Network Perspectives on the Study of Chinese History" took place at Fudan University as the 52nd workshop of its ICSCC (International Center for Studies of Chinese Civilization) Visiting Scholar Program. The participants discussed the tools and methods of social network analysis to reexamine the interdisciplinary field of Chinese studies and explored new possibilities of inquiry. The two-day workshop – treating social networks on the first day and textual networks on the second – was convened by Henrike Rudolph, who brought together eight scholars from various disciplines ranging from history, sociology to literature, and political science.


The workshop started with a welcome remark by Jin Guangyao, a professor in history at Fudan University and director of the ICSCC, who briefly introduced the ICSCC, particularly the center's mission of carrying out an academic exchange. The convener thanked the Center for its support and argued for the potentials of applying methods of social network analysis to Chinese studies and invited discussions of challenges. 





The first presenter Chen Song used methods of textual and network analyses to examine Song-Dynasty school inscriptions (school accounts and school steles). He advocated the analysis of these texts as discourses on schooling and learning and proposed network approaches to measure the influence of these school inscriptions. Chen thus combined textual analysis with network analysis, for example, by using coreness value measures to identify clusters and betweenness score to identify significance. He argued that inscription writing became an essential means of asserting and reaffirming intellectual leadership nationwide while the themes of inscriptions changed over time. 




Tian Feng and Li Tian conducted a case study to investigate the use of guanxi for job-hunting the during socialist transformation of the early 1950s in the People's Republic of China (PRC). Using labor union application forms of tobacco industry workers in Wuhu as primary sources,  they found that job assignments at the time involved the mobilization of guanxi, which benefited especially young and female workers who generally had less access to guanxi.  





Marc Matten introduced the database project "Global Scientific Networks in the Cold War Era." Historical network analysis is used here to examine translated texts in Chinese scientific journals – particularly those of nuclear science – in order to understand the making, selection, and circulation of scientific knowledge in the first decade of the PRC. The network nodes include, among others, actors (scientists), geographic places, institutions, events (e.g., conference, research projects, publications, and translations) as well as academic and personal relations. 





The database presented by Liang Chen assembles information on university students in Republican Shanghai and holds self-filled student registration cards from various types of universities. The information on the social background of the student's family, geographical origin, prior education, etc. offers valuable sources for understanding higher education in Republican China. 



 

Franziska Barbara Keller uncovered power hierarchies in official position appointments in high-level Chinese bureaucracy (1978-2006) and the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie's era by utilizing ranking and network centrality algorithms. The presenter thus offered a differentiating approach to understand promotion or demotion in the Chinese bureaucracy, individual career paths as well as the changing importance of ministries and provinces.

 




Donald Sturgeon demonstrated, with examples from early Chinese literature, that network visualization and analysis make it possible to identify text reuse in the vast corpus of transmitted texts and to examine patterns such as quotations and distinctive sayings. He also pointed out the challenges of usefully summarizing data at different levels.





Xu Chao reflected on studying Zuozhuan using historical social network analysis. Employing the tool Pajek, he uses centrality measurement – combining betweenness centrality and closeness centrality – to locate critical figures in the text. Confucius' network profile, for instance, shows that he has a high degree of betweenness even though his appearance in the text is infrequent. A heated discussion on the relationship between transmitted texts and historical facts followed, which in turn led to a reflection on different approaches to historical actuality in different academic disciplines. 





Assuming the didactic function of collective biographies and the significance of male connections in determining women revolutionaries' historical role, Henrike Rudolph abstracted "biographical nodes" (persons, institutions, and organizations) from 37 biographical sketches of women activists in twentieth-century China. The project shows that historical social network analysis can help to identify narrative patterns of women's life stories. Furthermore, deviations, narrative cornerstones, and the women's ties to one another, as well as the temporal dimension of these collective biographies, were discussed.



 

Zhao Wei applied methods of social network analysis to the study of historical novels by modern Chinese novelist Li Jieren. She first constructs an inter-character network based on the dialogue of the literary texts by using Matlab and R-Package Tnet to calculate the weights of the characters in all four texts studied. The central characters so identified were then discussed for their narrative function in constituting plots and in representing history, society, and individual inner experience. 





In the roundtable discussions of both days, the workshop participants considered the possibilities of using social network analysis as an interdisciplinary methodology, the need for institutional and financial support as well as the challenges of developing tools. They also discussed how or whether the methods can be taught to students and what difficulties there are for teaching. The issue of publishing was also a key topic for participants, who were enthusiastic about promoting the network methodology and its usefulness for various disciplines. They discussed how and where to publish (traditional, online, interactive, etc.), what can be published (e.g., paper in progress), as well as possibilities of offering intensive training sessions such as summer schools or workshops.


In the roundtable discussions of both days, the workshop participants considered the possibilities of using social network analysis as an interdisciplinary methodology, the need for institutional and financial support as well as the challenges of developing tools. They also discussed how or whether the methods can be taught to students and what difficulties there are for teaching. The issue of publishing was also a key topic for participants, who were enthusiastic about promoting the network methodology and its usefulness for various disciplines. They discussed how and where to publish (traditional, online, interactive, etc.), what can be published (e.g., paper in progress), as well as possibilities of offering intensive training sessions such as summer schools or workshops.