Political Elites and Intellectual History: Europe and China

CHU Mingkin and Julius MORCHE

The aim of this paper is to apply a comparative framework to inquire into the political significance of networks of intellectual exchange and to identify modes of intellectual engagement as a potential source of political action. While the field of comparative history has traditionally produced large-scale comparisons of macro-level institutions across world regions, recent advances in the theory and methodology of micro-history have highlighted the need for including prosopographical and regional elements in comparative frameworks. In particular, the emergence of distinct institutional trajectories in pre-modern China and Europe necessitates a consideration of basic socio-economic dynamics and their ramifications for political action in specific regional contexts. Placing regional observations in a comparative perspective, this paper seeks to explore the potential of cross-regional comparisons for sharpening regional narratives and identifying region-specific dynamics of institutional development. We conduct two case studies of urban intellectual networks in thirteenth-century Song China and sixteenth-century France, comparing the intellectual output and personal networks of the Parisian Estienne printmaker family and of Chen Qi, a publisher in the Southern Song capital Hangzhou. In both cases, we inquire into the political dimension of their publishing activity as well as their direct political influence and legacy. We further seek to contextualize these specific micro-historical narratives within the respective regional histories of urban institutional development. The paper thus contributes to generating a typology of sources applicable in micro-level comparative frameworks and to assessing the impact of elite activity and communication on the development of political institutions and structures of governance.

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