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Digital Perspectives on Imperial Chinese Political History

Stanford University hosts a talk with Hilde De Weerdt

April 12, 2016 4:15pm to 5:45pm

Hilde De Weerdt, Professor, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University

In twelfth-century Song China governmental control over current information circulated orally, in manuscript, and print became stricter. At the same time, the private and commercial publication of state documents, court news, and recent history grew exponentially. The former aspect, censorship, has received much attention in Chinese Studies. I propose that both aspects, secrecy and publicity, need to be understood together. I will reflect on the causes for central and local governments’ ambivalent stance towards the circulation of archival materials and current affairs and their longer-term consequences on imperial Chinese political culture. I argue, in part on the basis of digital analyses of notebooks and letters, that the paradigmatic shift towards localism amongst political elites in the twelfth century was accompanied by a structural transformation in political communication between court and provincial elites. This transformation was characterized by the dissemination of shared political imaginaries based on territorial claims and the consolidation of the position of the literati or cultural elites as the main producers and consumers of history and current affairs texts. Special consideration will be given to the question of how we can trace and analyze communication networks and political networking and their role in the history of Chinese empires.