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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Hidden Structures: Data, Social Networks and Politics in Early and Medieval China
1: Elite Social Networks and Politics at the Han Court
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Stanford University, United States
While scholars have touched on certain types of Han elites’ social connections, there has not been systematic and holistic research of multiple types of networks from the early Western Han to the late Eastern Han (202 BCE-220CE). Based on traditional histories and inscriptions, I employ digital methods and social network theories to analyze Han elites’ various types of networks including kinship, marriage, patronage, teacher-disciple, friendship, and recommendation. I argue that elites’ reliance on different types of networks contributed to the transformations of political forces as well as the growing tension between the inner court and the outer court. The inner court was empowered by kinship, marriage, and patronage networks, whereas the outer court was increasingly linked by teacher-disciple and friendship networks. These networks built upon but also broke the limits of social groups defined by a single attribute such as class, geographical origin, and educational background. Through this analysis, I seek to explain the political trajectory of the Han, destabilize the traditional groupings of political actors, and reflect on the biases in dynastic histories. In the meantime, I emphasize that digital network analysis should be combined with a close reading of sources in order to avoid reducing complex social relations into binary, countable edges.