Letters by Men of Letters: A Multidimensional Analysis of Epistolary Manuscripts and their Networks in Song Dynasty China (960–1279)

Project: Research

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The Song dynasty (960–1279) in Chinese history was a period that saw many transformative developments. These include the consolidation of a literati official class and literati culture, the rise of a print culture, and turbulent political upheavals brought on by foreign invasions and power struggles at the imperial court. This is a transformative and critical period in elite Chinese culture that sculpted most of what researchers know about the socio-cultural life of the traditional Chinese scholar-officials. These scholar-officials were constantly rotating in the empire's bureaucratic posts, and in order to communicate they had to write each other regularly. The writing of such personal letters has been an archaic practice, yet the methods of letter writing were never stagnant and impacted the cultural and social exchanges of the elites in China. Letters have not only become an increasingly important and sophisticated literary genre, but also the means of constructing a common cultural knowledge, a medium for ideas to ransmit, and above all, an important form of communication of political and personal information among these “men of letters” in Song China. Most scholars who have worked on Chinese letters have simply mined them as a source of information for historical or literary research. In contrary, this project considers how they functioned as letters, a unique and powerful means of communication, through interpolating the writing practices that underpin the production of these documents. Other than these transcribed texts in the transmitted corpus, almost 400 manuscript letters are still extant from this period. The letters in these calligraphic collections are an extremely useful source of Song epistolary writings since they preserve not only the textual content, but also the letters' original form. This project will compile an annotated digital catalogue, to be disseminated for public access, of information about these Song epistolary manuscripts. Based on this useful information, the project also maps and analyzes digitally the social networks exemplified in these epistolary manuscripts, and presents those results in contextual and interpretive studies about Song epistolary culture and networks. The digital analysis is conducted by linking the manuscripts with biographical information in existing datasets, then visualizing them with the social network analysis software Pajek.In short, this project adopts a multidimensional research approach for profiling and examining the networks in epistolary manuscripts, especially drawing upon methods and concepts from social networks analysis in studying the relationships of letter writers and their communicative practices.


Project number9048201
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/12/20 → …