The ENP-China Project invites scholars, researchers, and graduate students from various disciplines to submit their original research papers for presentation at our upcoming event. The conference aims to provide a platform for intellectual exchange and collaboration, fostering innovative ideas and discussions on “Rethinking Modern Chinese Elites”.

We encourage submissions that explore diverse perspectives, methodologies, and empirical approaches related to the conference theme. This interdisciplinary gathering offers a unique opportunity to engage with scholars from around the world and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the China field.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the early 1950s, Chinese society underwent rapid and unprecedented changes. How did these transformations differ from the social movements and dynastic changes in its imperial past? Why emphasize a specific period when some historians consider it part of a broader continuum from the eighteenth century to the present day? Does this periodization reinforce the idea that change in China was the result of Western influence? Our proposal is to examine the social transformation in China through the lens of the nature and role of elites over the long century (1830s to 1950s), characterized by significant political and cultural overhauls: the abolition of the imperial examination system, the rise of modern schools and universities, the abdication of the Qing Dynasty and the birth of the Republic, Western intrusion and the opening of treaty ports, the Taiping Civil War, the Sino-Japanese wars, and the collapse of the Nationalist republican regime, and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

While the imperial system that dominated China and shaped its social structure for centuries was never ideal or trouble-free, the magnitude and depth of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century upheavals brought about a complete overhaul of the social structure. The collective ruling elite faced enormous challenges both internally — how to face and adapt to unforeseen, rapid, and radical changes —  and externally — limited though it was, the growing democratization of society nurtured tensions and competition from various organized groups that challenged the configuration of elite groups. While political and military history cast a shadow over this period, the study of elites reveals their remarkable resilience and capacity for rejuvenation. In fields such as business, academia, technology, and even diplomacy, Chinese elites capitalized on the opportunities provided by new education, technologies, and forms of social organization to shape the country’s future. Wars severely disrupted this momentum, with foreign countries bearing a significant share of responsibility for driving China into a corner, while the political failures of the elites led China into a deadlock.

The conference on “Rethinking Modern Chinese Elites” aims to bring together contributions from diverse scholarly perspectives regarding the period (18th-20th century), the subjects (elites, from top to bottom), and methodologies (print/digital sources; data/computational methodologies).

How does the study of elites shed new light on issues that have permeated academic debates, such as Westernization and modernization, and does it contribute to reframing the terms of the debate? Similarly, how does historical research focused on actors, both Chinese and non-Chinese, and based on new sources or a fresh interpretation of sources (computational analysis of the press, directories, etc.), help overcome the divides regarding nationalism and state/society relations? However useful the division of elites into groups (economic, political, social) from an analytical perspective, as we also lay out below, we need to question and investigate the fluidity and circulation between these groups.

What was China as a geo-spatial entity in modern times, with portions of its territory placed under different regimes (foreign settlements, Japan-occupied territories, Taiwan, Hong Kong)? How did regime changes and economic development (capital relocations, redistribution of activities, migrations) impact the lives of the elites? What was the relationship between spatial disparities (coastal vs. inland China) and the social mobility of elites? How can we assess the repercussions of elite emigration in its various dimensions (education abroad, post-1949 in- and out-migration). How does the study of elites in China contribute to redefining borders?

Methodologically and epistemologically, hstorical research is being reshaped by the increasing availability of digital historical resources and the maturation of advanced Natural Language Processing and data processing methods. In examining the topics outlined below, the organizers encourage contributors to consider the impact of the digitization of historical research on historiography. How does it contribute to the integration of computational methods into the historian’s research practices?

Topics of interest for paper submissions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Social Mobility and Elite Circulation: Investigate patterns of social mobility among elite groups over time and space. Analyze how individuals or groups move in and out of elite positions, considering factors such as wealth, education, occupation, and social networks. Explore the mechanisms and processes that facilitated or hindered social mobility. Examine the changing spatial configurations under “China” and the various scales at which elites were active.
  1. Power and Governance: Examine the evolving sources and nature of power within elite groups. Explore how elites acquired, exercised, and legitimized power throughout different historical periods. Investigate the relationship between elites and governance structures, such as the imperial system, the republican political system, and wartime regimes.
  1. Economic Elites: Study the transformation of economic elites, including industrialists, financiers, and entrepreneurs. Analyze their roles in economic development, wealth accumulation, and the influence of economic elites on society, politics, and state policy-making.
  1. Intellectual and Cultural Elites: Explore the evolution of intellectual and cultural elites, such as scholars, artists, writers, and religious leaders. Examine their changing roles, values, and impact on society, including their contributions to knowledge, cultural production, and the formation of modern ideologies.
  1. Elite Networks and Institutions: Investigate the formation and dynamics of elite networks and institutions. Examine how elites created and maintained exclusive social circles, clubs, professional organizations, and educational institutions. Analyze the influence of these networks on the reproduction of elite status and the transmission of power.
  1. Gender and Elite Transformation: Explore the role of gender in the transformation of elites. Investigate the experiences of women in elite positions, their access to power, and the challenges they faced. Analyze how gender dynamics shaped elite structures and influenced the broader social order.
  1. Comparative Studies: Conduct comparative studies across different historical periods, regions, or cultures to identify commonalities and variations in elite transformation. Compare different models of elite formation, social mobility, and power dynamics, taking into account socio-economic, political, and cultural factors.

The conference will be organized into panels for the presentation of papers. Additionally, specific panels will be dedicated to digital exemplary projects in historical research that incorporate computational methodologies. Contributors are welcome to submit both a conference paper and a digital exemplary project.

Submission Guidelines:

– Abstracts: Interested participants should submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, summarizing the research objectives, methodology, and key findings.

– Full Papers: Accepted abstracts will be invited for the submission of full papers before the conference. The length of the full paper should adhere to the specified guidelines provided on the conference website.

– Exemplary projects: Interested participants should submit an abstract of no more than 500 words, summarizing the nature of the tool/platform, main features, methodology, and key outputs.

– Language: Submissions should be in English.

Important Dates:

– Abstract Submission Deadline: 1 September 2023

– Notification of Acceptance: 1 October 2023

– Full Paper Submission Deadline: 4 May 2024

– Conference Registration Deadline: 7 May 2024

Conference Organizing Committee

Christian Henriot

Cécile Armand

Baptiste Blouin

Jiang Jie 蔣傑

Feng Yi 馮藝 

The Organizing Committee of the international conference “Rethinking Modern Chinese Elites. From Print to Computational Methods: Sources, Languages, and Interdisciplinarity” gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. The conference has also received support from the Tseng Family Trust and from the French Academic Network on Asian Studies, [GIS-Asie].