China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: Social network analysis based on systematically collected data is changing how we analyze our sources by enabling distant reading and the modeling of large-scale social interactions. This panel brings together scholars of history and literature to discuss social networks in early and medieval China, periods when great families figured prominently in political life and when China went through both unified rule and disunity. We emphasize the agency of social networks—how they created social worlds unbound by pre-existing social arrangements, took on meanings of their own, and drove historical change.
Yunxin Li and Liang Cai’s papers demonstrate that during the Han empire, social networks transcended the barriers in existing social structures, provided channels of social mobility, and changed power dynamics at the court. Jack Chen and Nicolas Tackett’s papers show that during periods of disunity, networks of individuals--whether represented in a literary work or embodied in marriage ties--served to create heterogeneous “small worlds” as well as new societies of political elites. The impact of social networks on politics and of politics on social networks illuminate the complex interactions between state and society in early and medieval China. Methodologically, we all use compiled data and digital tools together with close reading in order to reveal the hidden structures of elite networks. Based on traditional histories, an anecdotal collection, and a prosopographic database, we showcase the explanatory power of social network analysis for Chinese history and literature.
Paper Presenter: Yunxin Li – Stanford University
Paper Presenter: Liang Cai – University of Notre Dame
Paper Presenter: Jack W. Chen – University of Virginia
Paper Presenter: Nicolas Tackett – University of California, Berkeley