Chinese Historical Databases: Sources, Methods, Prospects

On 11-12 January 2024, the Lee-Campbell Research Group at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) convened an impressive array of scholars from mainland China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Europe to deliberate on the evolving landscape of Chinese Historical Databases. The meeting was supported by the RGC Area of Excellence Project Quantitative History of China (Chen Zhiwu PI) and included many of the participants from that project.

In recent years, and particularly in recent months, numerous new projects have emerged, addressing all periods of Chinese history through a diverse array of sources: genealogies, letters, archival records, gazetteers, journals, newspapers, and more. These sources have been accessible for decades; however, unlike past scholars who engaged in the painstaking process of extracting data from samples or sections of these sources, digital transformation now enables their “wholesale” availability for historical analysis. Naturally, not all materials can be converted into formats suitable for data mining.

Over 25 years ago, the Lee-Campbell Research Group began the laborious task of manually transcribing and coding entire archival sets (e.g., population data). A notable recent achievement is the creation of the CGED-Q database, encompassing comprehensive records of official appointments in the Qing administration. Other invaluable datasets have followed, which are detailed on their website. These datasets have placed Chinese historical research on a new foundation rich with historical data.

Computational methodological advancements have forged new avenues into historical documents. Some projects presented at the conference build upon the groundwork laid by the Lee-Campbell Research Group, while others utilize sophisticated computational techniques to render original sources machine-readable, extract data, and organize it into structured formats for analysis.

The diverse presentations highlighted that there is no uniform approach to “transforming and conquering” historical sources. Strategies and tailored algorithms must be developed based on the nature and structure of each source. However, these experiences offer valuable contributions, advancing research on historical digital corpora. Such gatherings are fruitful, bringing together scholars with varied methods, training sets, and tools, thereby enriching each other’s work.

 

The presentations spanned the last 2,500 years of Chinese history, with many projects overlapping in terms of periods and actors. This raises the question of how to interconnect the millions of data points from individual projects. For instance, an individual active during the late Qing dynasty might not be a historical figure in the PRC, but what about familial connections that bridge these periods? Sources can serve multiple research questions and purposes, which is a significant benefit of organizing historical data into comprehensive databases.

The conference unfolded in a congenial and collaborative atmosphere, promising further advancements in sharing methods, training datasets, and data. The program below offers an overview of the databases developed by each participant.

The conference concluded with a proposal to form an alliance of existing projects, extending this collaboration to similar endeavors in Japan, Korea, or Vietnam, which also involve sources in Chinese characters. This initiative warrants active pursuit. Historians of China are uniquely positioned to revolutionize historical research, thanks to this extraordinary confluence of abundant historical sources, the development of comprehensive databases, and the consistent application of computational methodologies to historical materials.

PROGRAM

11 January 2024

8:45AM-9AM

Opening

Introductory Remarks by Chen Zhiwu, Cameron Campbell

9AM-10:30AM

Session 1 New Approaches

Chair: Cameron Campbell

Lin Zhan: “Content and Value of the Chinese Genealogy Database”

Guenther Lomas: “The Process of Building the Chinese Genealogy Database”

Chen Yuqi: “Geocoding the Past World: Unearthing Coordinates of Early China from Texts Using Large Language Models”

 

11:00AM-12:30PM

Session 2 – Geographic, Economic, and Other Context

Chair: Chen Zhiwu

Hu Heng: “清史时空综合数据平台-清史地理信息系统和基于地方志的清代职官信息集成数据库”

Ma Debin: “Quantifying Living Standards, an Overview”

Ziang Liu: “Early Modern Wages: Data and Limits”

Gao Shuaiqi: “清代危机(灾害)量化数据的应用与局限”

 

2PM-3:30PM

Session 3 – Late Imperial China I

Chair: James Lee

Ma Min: “基于近代传教士档案的人物数据库设想”

Dong Hao: East Asian Population Databases

Christian Henriot: “Modern China Historical Database: Current Status and Future Prospects”

 

4:00PM-5:30PM

Session 4 – Late Imperial China II

Chair: Debin Ma

Cameron Campbell: “CGED-Q: Current Status and Future Plans”

Chen Jun: “CGED-Q ZSBL: Military Officials”

Fu Haiyan: “近代中国寺庙登记表数据库及初步的研究”

 

12 January 2024

8:45AM-10:15AM

Session 5 – ROC

Chair: Dong Hao

Yibei Wu: “Late Qing and Beiyang Student Records, and Beiyang and ROC Officials”

Hou Yueran: “Construction of Occupational Database of Tsinghua Students Studying in America with Boxer Indemnity Fund (1909-1944)”

Lik Hang Tsui: “Ink Trails: Correspondence and Connections in a Dataset of Epistolary Manuscripts from Song China”

 

10:45AM-12:45PM

Session 6 – ROC and PRC

Chair: Christian Henriot

Matthew Noellert

Lee-Campbell Group Post-1949 Rural Datasets

James Lee: “Lee-Campbell Group PRC and ROC Educational, Academic, and Professional Datasets”

Chen Ting: Post-1949 County Gazetteers

Pierre Landry: “China’s provincial CCP élite since 1921”

 

2PM-3PM

Future Directions Panel with remarks by Cameron Campbell, Zhiwu Chen, Christian Henriot, and James Z. Lee



Cite this blog post
Christian Henriot (2024, January 12). Chinese Historical Databases: Sources, Methods, Prospects. Elites, Networks and Power in modern China. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/vkqe

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