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370,000 biographies added to nat’l database

Author  :  Sun Miaoning     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2016-01-26

Peter Bol, a professor from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University

"Digging into Data," a China Biographical Database (CBDB) workshop, was held from Jan. 8 to 10 at Peking University. Over the past few years, historians across the world have been exploring ways to apply information technology to historical research. The CBDB is an attempt to compile important biographical information from Chinese history.

The CBDB is a joint project of the Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History at Peking University, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University and the Institute of History and Philosophy of Academia Sinica in Taipei.

At present, it is a database with biographical information on approximately 370,000 individuals that mainly focuses on the period from the 7th century to the 19th century. An abundance of biographies from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Song Dynasty (960-1279) as well as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) have been included.

The project has initially prioritized biographies of Song figures, but it will shift its focus to earlier dynasties after the launch of the Tang Research Foundation project.

Entries about the individuals in the Complete Works of Study on Prefectural Governors in the Tang Dynasty and A Study on Nine Ministers in the Tang Dynasty have been collected. The database will be extended with updates on the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The CBDB is a relational database. Biographical information, such as names, birth year and age, kinship, interpersonal relationships and geographical data, can be searched based on two core methodologies, namely prosopography and social network analysis. In historical studies, prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group through the study of collective biography.

“The database enables instant searches of a large amount of biographical information, which will facilitate preliminary analysis that otherwise requires huge manpower and provide easier access to the general conditions and development of nine ministers and prefectural governors,” said Xu Liheng, a young scholar from the University of Oxford. “The model, using dynastic data, has made detailed comparisons more feasible. As a result, various subjects, for instance the Tang-Song Transformation, could be investigated from different aspects.”

Peter Bol, a professor from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, is one of the directors of this project. He said the CBDB will be a great resource for research on social history and social network analysis. “You can learn about Chinese poets’ exchanges with the Semu people and the Mongols by searching the marital and personal relations between them. Besides, clues to the prominent studies on ancient history could be more conveniently found in the CBDB,” he said.


Sun Miaoning is a reporter at the Chinese Social Sciences Today. 


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