Pembroke College, Oxford

9 – 10 January 2014


Primary convenors:

Hilde De Weerdt (h.g.d.g.de.weerdt@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

Chu Ming-kin (m.k.chu@hum.leidenuniv.nl)




The research group “Communication and Empire: Chinese Empires in Comparative Perspective” (History Department, King’s College London) invites scholars of middle period Chinese history to participate in the international workshop “Letters and Notebooks as Sources for Elite Communication in China, 900-1300”. The aim is to discuss primary sources for political communication among elites, with letters and notebooks as the main focus. The workshop will also include a session on digital readings of letters and notebooks.

Participants are invited to submit draft papers by December 1, 2013. Draft papers can be written in Chinese, English, or Japanese. Panel members will be asked to discuss and respond to each other's papers.

Attendance is by invitation only.




Panel I: Letters as sources for elite communication

Large numbers of letters have been preserved in the collections (wenji) of Chinese literati. Yet letter collections have seldom been studied systematically to shed light on political culture or the structure and dynamics of elite networks. This panel aims to explore how letters can be utilized as primary sources in the study of Song political and intellectual history. We invite panelists to consider the following questions:

How were letter collections compiled and edited? What motivated the publication of letter collections? What kinds of political information were included in letters? How up-to-date was the information? What was the social background of those who had their collections published? What was the social and geographical range of the network of those with whom they corresponded? How were letters received and read? In what ways did letters and their publication help shape elite identities?


Panel II: Notebooks as sources for elite communication

As was the case with letter collections, the number of notebooks (biji) circulated rose dramatically in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even though notebooks have been widely used amongst scholars of Chinese history and literature, they have seldom been studied as intellectual projects in their own right. In this session, we invite historians to consider the cultural and political projects that underlay the compilation and circulation of notebooks. Panelists may consider the following questions:


What sources of information did notebook authors rely upon? In what ways did they document their sources of information? Were there significant changes in the scope or structure of the sources from which notebook authors drew? Do the sources of information commented upon in notebooks differ from the structure of information in other genres?


In modern classifications of notebooks it has been observed that those focusing on philological problems and historical events can be singled out as subgenres. To what extent were history and/or philology linked to political questions and current affairs? Could it be said, as some have claimed for medieval European history, that communication was by definition political?


Like letters notebooks have been shown to integrate current debates through their authors' commentary on conversations and on recent publications. In what ways can notebooks contribute to the study of literati networks and the social and political impact of such networks?



Panel III:  Digital readings of letters and notebooks

Hundreds of notebooks and thousands of letters from Song times have come down to us—a much smaller number of letters from Liao and Jin authors also survive. Many of these now exist in digital format, opening up opportunities for the exploration of these corpora on both the macro- and the micro-scale with digital methods. Contributors to this panel are invited to share their experience in digital projects and to discuss how letters and notebooks, as the best sources we have to examine personal and collective responses to official sources, can be examined digitally. They may wish to consider the following questions:


How do digital versions and editions of letter collections and notebooks compare to print standard editions? In what ways can digital editions complement print editions? What kinds of "distant reading" should we undertake of digital collections? How can the application and integration of network, GIS, corpus linguistics, or text mining methods further the examination of classical Chinese corpora? What tools would be most useful towards this end?





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