Network of a Ninth Century Poet: Visualizing the Social Life of Bai Juyi

Summer 2017

Emily Wang : History

Donor: Wishek Fund
Mentor: Nicolas Tackett

Bai Juyi 白居易 (aka Bo Juyi, ca. 8th–9th century CE), one of the most renowned poets in Chinese history, was also a well-connected civil bureaucrat from a family based in the Tang capital. Past studies have focused principally on the deeds and accomplishments of the Tang aristocracy, but their social interactions remain largely unstudied. My project proposes to investigate the social network of the late Tang elites by conducting a social network analysis of Bai Juyi. The evidence for Bai Juyi’s social interactions can be assembled from a range of sources, including poem titles, letters, and tomb epitaphs, and their sheer volume allows for an in-depth reconstruction of Bai’s social network. This study attempts to trace, measure, and visualize Bai’s social connections, disambiguate his associates, and contextualize the patterns of geographical dispersion, social statuses, age, and lineages in his network. In the long term, I aim to investigate how a member of the Tang aristocracy interacted within the broader literary networks, political factions and marriage alliances.

I am most grateful for the support of the SURF program and the Wishek fund that makes my research project over the past summer possible. This is the first time that I have conducted independent research on a topic of my choice and I have found the experience both challenging and inspiring. Through intensive reading and thinking, I came to realize that I am more interested in the political and social implications of the poems that I am examining. The work that I have done in the summer not only prepares me for my senior thesis but also shapes my writing sample for graduate school applications. Time-management techniques and ways of coping with setbacks are the two invaluable skills that I learned to cultivate over the summer. Again, I am proud of being a SURF fellow and the SURF experience would be for sure one of my most cherished memories of college.