Song Chen (陳松) is a Ph.D. Candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations. He is currently completing his dissertation “Managing the Provinces from Afar: The Imperial State and Elites in Sichuan, 755-1279” under the direction of Professor Peter K. Bol. Before his enrollment at Harvard, he had majored in international economics at Fudan University and worked as an assistant to Professor Linda G. Sprague at China Europe International Business School. His academic interests include state-society relations in China; Chinese economics history; historical sociology; use of social network analysis in the humanities.
His research is centered on the intricate interplay between the state, elites, and ideas from the 8th to the 18th century. His recent projects aim to understand the mechanisms by which China achieved high degrees of political, social, and cultural integration in history. His dissertation discusses the creation of a decentralized structure of governance in Sichuan in the eleventh century and the subsequent emergence of a new, locally embedded, office-holding elite. It reveals a symbiotic relationship between the imperial state and this elite, which enabled the state to successfully integrate Sichuan into the national polity by making the local elite stakeholders in the imperial system.
His other projects deal with the tension between the realities of political governance and the ideological and social ideals of Neo-Confucianism in the late imperial period. In a study of the cult of Zitong, he examined the ideological pressures the state and scholars faced for justifying their patronage of the cult from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth century. In another project, by investigating Yongzheng Emperor’s (r. 1722-1735) failed attempt to establish community granaries, he revealed the fundamental tensions between the logics of bureaucratic operations and the principles of moral persuasion and elite voluntarism in Neo-Confucian social programs.
Song Chen actively explores new ways of studying and teaching history in a digital information environment. From 2006 to 2010, he was the project manager for the China Biographical Database project, an online relational database currently of 70,000 historical figures that is being expanded to cover the Chinese political elite over the last 2000 years. He is also exploring the combination of network analysis and large biographical datasets in the history research. His article “Native Incumbency and Elite Networks in Song Dynasty Sichuan: Evidence of the Turn of the Mid-Eleventh Century from China Biographical Database (CBDB)” revealed shifts in the patterns of elite behavior by using social network analysis tools and CBDB data and was published online via the Society for Song, Yuan, and Conquest Dynasties Studies in 2008.