Last week Tuesday February 11, 2020, we were invited to present our current research in the workshop “Networks in East Asia: Methods and Case Studies” at the University of Bristol. It was an opportunity to bridge the ENP-China project with Robert Bickers’ Hong Kong History Project and to exchange with his lively team of PhD. students and postdoctoral fellows.
The workshop opened with a presentation by Jin A Kang, an economic historian from Hanyang University in Seoul, dealing with the Transnational Merchant Diaspora in Modern East Asia.
Following Jin’s talk, Cécile Armand took the case of the Rotary Club of Shanghai to discuss the Americanization of Chinese elites in Republican China. Her purpose was to assess more specifically the position of Chinese members within the club and the position of the club itself within Chinese society. Relying on a variety of heretofore untapped sources (Rotary international Archives, newspapers, personal papers) and an adequate set of digital techniques (esp. Social Network Analysis), she demonstrated that the Rotary successfully integrated Chinese elites, even though most of them were already “Americanized”. She pointed out that far from being a self-contained foreign elite club, the Shanghai Rotary club was deeply rooted in local and national life, with a China-centered, social and international perspective. In the end, the Rotary served as an arena not so much for Americanizing Chinese elites but rather for sinicizing the new generation of transnational elites in modern China.
Christian Henriot closed the workshop by giving an overview of our experiment on Boorman’s Biographical Dictionary of Republican China. He described the methodology we used for processing the information extracted from the book and presented some major findings regarding the origins, the educational background, professional career and relationships of Chinese elites during the Republican period. Christian also raised awareness toward the potentialities and challenges of harnessing digital techniques when facing “massive” corpora of digitized sources.
The various presentations spurred a burst of exciting questions and comments from the students, who were deeply interested in the new techniques available for historical research.