ESSCS 2022: New Foundations in Digital Chinese Studies

The European Summer School in Chinese Digital Humanities and the international conference “New Foundations in Digital Chinese Studies,” hosted by ENP-China ERC project and sponsored by the European Association for Chinese Studies, took place at Aix-Marseille University in Aix-en-Provence (France) on 20-25 June 2022.

During this 6-day event, participants of all ages across the globe exchanged and discussed how digital methodologies could push ahead Chinese Studies in different disciplines. Historical data and techniques such as data processing, database design, and analyses in textual, visual, network, and spatial data were introduced in lectures and hands-on sessions during the 4-day summer school. Then, in the following 2-day conference, scholars involved in the summer school presented their own research using these advanced approaches as a conclusion to the event.

The essence of the Summer School lied in welcoming emerging China scholars to give them the opportunity to explore and apply these techniques to their recent or future research. In the paragraphs below, I shall review the content of each session in the program:


Lectures about “Data-driven Scholarship,” the “Digital Representation of Text,” the “Chinese Text-mining and NLP,” and the “Digital Humanities Demo Class,” were presented by Cécile Armand (Aix-Marseille University, France), Donald Sturgeon (Durham University, UK), Pierre Magistry (INALCO, France), and Marylin Levine (Central Washington University, US). They provided a detailed overview of principles and technologies, including the nature of digital humanities and its scholarship, as well as technical explanations of the preparation and the processing stages of the text data.

2.Data Processing, Database Design, and Tools for Data Analysis

The following sessions ranged from the preparation — collecting and processing raw data — to implementation — database design and analysis.

Paul Vierthaler (Williams & Mary University, US) trained the participants in approaches such as data wrangling, data extraction, data visualization, Stylometry, and word embedding using Python scripts. This session yielded a better understanding of how to analyzing texts, especially classic Chinese literature.

Since 2005, the Arts eResearch team from the University of Sydney in Australia have been developing the open-source database Heurist, which has become popular among humanities researchers due to its unique features to easily construct, reconstruct and store various data without programming. Ian Johnson, Heurist’s designer-in-chief, gave an introduction on how this user-driven data management system can allow users to design, populate, explore, and publish their own structured database by themselves in a short time.

Neo4j is a graph database management system developed using Java technology by Neo4j, Inc. On Neo4j, Elisabeth Kaske (Leipzig University, Germany) and Baptiste Blouin (Aix-Marseille University) provided a tutorial with an exploration of a board game about official careers and promotions and a late-Qing novel Officialdom Unmasked (Guanchang Xianxing Ji 官場現形記). They modelled the data on persons, background, degrees, occupations, ranks, places, and book chapters, trying to examine how these elements influence the career development of literati at that time.

Focusing on making pre-modern Chinese texts more accessible by offering an online open-access digital library, Donald Sturgeon (Durham University), the creator of the Chinese Text Project, gave a brief overview on its organization, principles, text usage, setup, and the features such as search and editing. He also provided the tutorial on how to make semantic elements of texts machine-readable and record machine-readable data sources from texts.

Markus and allied platforms (Parallells, etc.) provide methodologies to read, annotate, and perform text analysis. This was developed by Hilde De Weerdt (KU Leuven, Belgium) and her team. Hilde De Weerdt guided the participants to explore Chinese historical texts from ancient time to the pre-modern era with the functions of text annotation in Markus. After creating their own datasets, participants would be able to highlight some words, sentence, paragraphs that were important to their research and made further research. Markus also provides functions in generating maps, network graphs, tables, timelines, pie charts, and word clouds.

James Lee and Cameron Campbell (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, China) gave an overview of their experiment with the China Government Employee Database-Qing, which is a Qing dynasty officialdom database created by the Lee-Campbell Group. Lee and Campbell described the methodology they used for processing the information extracted from the Jinshenlu 縉紳錄, a roster of government personnel over several centuries. They also presented some major findings on the career mobility of government employees that highlight the benefits of a quantitative study of Qing officialdom based on such big data.

The ENP-China Team (Aix-Marseille University, France) is targeting historical research on the modern China period. They introduced their newly released HistText tool that can extract and process textual data from historical newspapers, academic periodicals, archives, diaries, and Wikipedia sources. During the hands-on-session, the ENP-China Team divided the participants into groups and guided them to play around the tool with some specific topics such as natural disasters or gender issues. Through the experience gained in this exercise, it was possible for the participants to come up with new ideas according to the materials they had found to make their research directions more precisely.

In the visual sources session, by contrast, relational data tended to be hard to describe as they had already been organized in visual patterns by its producer. Challenges on this issue were presented by Chen Jing (Nanjing University, China) in terms of Chinese cultural heritages. Chen shared her experience in building the archives of intangible heritages (textiles, etc.), images of commercial advertisement, and the photographs of the Grand Canal. These examples provided the participants with some reflections about what kind of information on a cultural object (subjects, artists, provenances, etc.) was well worth looking at.

3.Network Analysis

In these sessions, four network visualization tools, along with an introduction on social network analysis concepts and relevant case studies, were introduced. They include Cytoscape, Orange, UCINET, the Vistorian, and Gephi. Christian Henriot and Cécile Armand (Aix-Marseille University) trained the participants to extract the information on Chinese students who studied in America (student, university, curriculum) and implement the data in Cytoscape. The aim of this session was to teach participants how to select key information to make this sample network to reach the appropriate levels of standardization (universities, degrees) and enrichment (nationality, location). In her talk, Marilyn Levine (Central Washington University) introduced historical network analysis, with its definitions and measures, using a case study on the Chinese students in Europe. She also guided the participants with data mining in Orange, as well as using NetDraw with attributes and creating a pruning table in UCINET. The Vistorian, developed by Benjamin Bach (University of Edinburgh, UK) and his research team, is an online platform that can provide interactive visualization for various kinds of networks. In this talk, Bach and Mashael Alkadi (University of Edinburgh) covered a broad spectrum of network types and lead the participants with some practice on network visualization, ranging from node-link diagrams and adjacency matrix to time arcs and maps.

Liu Jun (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) presented his current research on semantic network analysis, trying to use these case studies to point out methods of implementing the theory into Chinese social media research. By using Gephi, he guided the participants to look at various feelings people express about Covid-19 on social media (Weibo) and how can we use this case to do semantic analysis.

4.Spatial Analysis

This session opened with a presentation by Shih-Pei Chen, a digital content curator from the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, dealing with the concepts and practices of geographic information systems. Following Chen’s talk, Christian Henriot and Cécile Armand (Aix-Marseille University) took the case of the Modern China Biographical Database to investigate the life course of Chinese elites in Republican China. They extracted the information on the birthplace and death place of selected Chinese elites from this database, and guided the participants to use these materials to generate maps in the open-source geographical information system QGIS. The purpose of the exercise was to assess more specifically the places of birth and death of Chinese elites with regard to their personal life history and the potential relation of these locations to the institutional history of the societies they engaged in during their lives. Henriot also introduced the Modern China Geospatial Database, a modern China gazetteer made by ENP-China team. Within this database, participants can easily identify and collect all the name variants under which locations in China were named in historical sources. The birth of this database is definitely a breakthrough for the spatial analysis of modern China.


The original objective of the Summer School was to train emerging researchers in Chinese Studies in digital methodologies and to apply them to their recent or future research. It also aimed at exposing them to valuable insights and cutting-edge research agendas by some of the world’s most accomplished scholars in the China field. The various sessions successfully spurred a burst of exciting questions and comments from both the mentors and the participants, who were deeply interested in the new techniques available for historical research. In addition, due to the wide range of mentors and participants coming from different countries and regions, the cultural experiences from international perspectives were extraordinary. All of us achieved the best results possible within our courses as well as created unforgettable memories in the south of France.

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1 Response

  1. 31/12/2022

    […] 20-25 June 2022, I had the privilege to participate in the European Summer School in Chinese Digital Humanities followed by the international conference “New Foundations in Digital Chinese Studies”. This […]

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