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Posted by: mchu 7 years, 3 months ago


Team members Hilde De Weerdt and Chu Ming-kin participated in the “Conference on Middle Period China, 800-1400” at Harvard University on June 5-7, 2014. Discussion panels were based on time periods, themes, disciplines and modes of analysis. In her paper “War and Peace in the Civil Examinations”, which was part of a panel on military history, Hilde discussed the production and reception of military geographical knowledge and the application of a particular kind of historical reasoning in official and elite discussions of Song military conflicts with Jurchens, Tanguts, and Mongols. She argued that military and border policies became a central concern of the literate elite during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In his paper “Writing Letters to Qin Gui’s Clique: A Study of Zheng Gangzhong’s Epistolary Network” that was part of a panel on the political and economic power of elites, Ming-kin offered a case study on the relationship between early Southern Song literati and the chief councilor Qin Gui through an analysis of Zheng Gangzhong’s epistolary writings. He showed how Zheng Gangzhong attempted to build a good rapport with the people surrounding the councilor Qin Gui in order to maintain his position in Sichuan, discussing in particular the relationship between Zheng’s epistolary network and Qin’s long tenure as chief councilor.


Participants discussed issues relating to periodization, new sources, as well as distinctive features of specific time periods such as Southern Song or the Jin-Yuan. Definitions of terms and concepts like empire, state, nation, ethnicity, identity and networks were discussed in different thematic and methodological panels. To what extent are these concepts applicable to research in middle period China? Was the Song a nation or an empire? Diverse views on these questions reflected different scholarly interests and research questions. For scholars who engaged in comparative or cross-disciplinary studies, clear definitions of these concepts, even though they may not perfectly fit the Chinese context, are essential; but to scholars who do not need to engage with western scholarship, such discussions may be of lesser importance.


On the second day of the conference, Hilde held the workshop “MARKUS: Reading and Analyzing Classical Chinese Texts Digitally and The Late Imperial Primer Literacy Sieve”, during which she explained how the tagging system “MARKUS” ( can automatically tag personal names, place names, temporal references, bureaucratic offices, and other key terms in classical Chinese text files. On the last day of the conference, Hilde also served as a chair on a session on network analysis. In her introductory remarks, she told the audience how network theory can be used to better understand interactions within large groups. Participants then shared their experience in applying network analysis to their own research, which ranged from connections of a single person through marriage, gatherings or letter exchanges to extensive social networks dealing with larger sets of quantitative data. The session ended with a discussion on  the applicability of network analysis to middle period China.


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