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Posted by: mchu 6 years, 10 months ago


Team members Hilde De Weerdt, Julius Morche and Chu Ming-kin participated in the Away Day of the “state and society network” of the Leiden University Institute for Areas Studies (LIAS) on November 21-22, 2014, to which the group had contributed the panel “Correspondence and networks”. Panellists were invited to present a specific source or source type from their current research and explain their treatment in current scholarship. By discussing and comparing sources and source types from different world historical contexts, the panel had two principal aims: first, to illuminate current challenges in the study of specific historical contexts relating to their respective source base; and, second, to explore the potential of comparative approaches on the basis of identifying commonalities between different types of sources and their historical origin. The panel featured five presentations covering the communication of literati elites in Jin-Yuan China; the communication of mercantile elites in late medieval and Renaissance Venice; the communication between the Sultan and the ruling elite in the seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire; Republican-era exchanges about labour recruitment between various government agencies and the Japanese management of the Fushun Coalmine (1910-1920s); and the examination essay in eighteenth-century China with specific respect to related social networks and aspects of political resistance.

Team member Chu Ming-kin reconstructed the epistolary network of Han literati in thirteenth-century north China through an examination of 200 letters in a letter collection known as Epistolary Writings of the Central Plain. He discussed how Qubilai’s system of patronage transformed parts of the epistolary network into an indigenous network of political elites. His presentation revealed that a Uyghur named Lian Xixian and a Buddhist-Daoist-Confucianist adviser Liu Bingzhong, two long-time retainers of Qubilai, were key brokers in the epistolary network. Both of them recommended Han literati to the Mongol prince through their social connections, which in turn facilitated the political ascendance of Han literati after Qubilai’s accession.

Figure 1: The patronage network of Lian Xixian




Figure 2: The patronage network of Liu Bingzhong


Julius’s presentation focused on Venetian fifteenth-century merchant letters, outlining how these documents of primarily economic content can be used as sources in prosopographical and genealogical research as well as in the study of the history of political communication and media. On the basis of a specific merchant letter taken from the private archive of a fifteenth-century Venetian patrician, he explained how its analysis can extract significant meta-data (e.g. names, dates, locations, relational links), which can be used for the tracing of prosopographical relations, the reconstructing of wider networks, and ultimately for embedding the document’s content in a wider context of societal dependencies. This is particularly significant for letters carrying political information, as the impact of political communication among patrician elites on the development of political institutions and structures of governance can thus be highlighted and concretely assessed.  


Figure 3 Date



Figure 4 Author



Figure 5 Recipient



Figure 6 Note recipient



With respect to the group’s research, the discussions that emerged from the panel were beneficial in highlighting the need for inclusive definitions of shared terminologies or concepts (such as ‘patronage’, ‘network’, ‘literati’ or ‘feudalism’) and their evaluation regarding their context-specific historical pertinence.  The discussion also showed that meaningful comparisons across regions and periods can be attempted even if the comparability of sources is not necessarily given.


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