Co-PIs: Dr. James Miller and Dr. Charles Chang

Student Leader & Project Manager: Junyi Tao

Distant reading team: Xiaoyin Chen, Youzhang He

Close reading team: Meichen Liu, Jiaming Li

This project is funded by the 2022 Data Plus Grant, Data Science Center, Duke Kunshan University.

Classical Chinese philosophy, marked by its enigmatic language, features cryptic texts that often rely on obscure foundational concepts such as ziran (nature), dao (the Way), and de (virtue). The myriad interpretations by different authors and schools further complicate these texts. Combining close and distant reading methods, this study aims to reveal hidden connections within philosophical discourses by analyzing contextual associations between concepts across schools, traditions, and time periods. We employ natural language processing techniques, such as topic modeling and embedding, tailored to classical Chinese to analyze associations between philosophical terms. Our pilot study validates this approach, highlighting the differing interpretations of “nature” (ziran) in Daoism and Confucianism: Daoist texts relate it to cosmic laws and harmony, while Confucian texts connect it to virtues and societal well-being, focusing on moral development. Our future goal is to expand this analysis to encompass longer timeframes, such as the Ming and Qing dynasties, to trace the evolution of these concepts and the interplay between philosophical schools.

Basic statistics of key concepts in pre-Qin philosophical texts, such as frequency and percentage

Word embedding illustrating distinct conceptual interpretations across philosophical schools

Contextual embedding of “nature” (ziran) in different philosophical schools

Announcement on the website of Humanities Research Center, Duke Kunshan Univeristy

Presentation at the Data+X Symposia, Duke Kunshan University, in March, 2023. poster slides

Cover image source: How Yin Yang Promotes Harmony and Balance by Milan Loiacono, 2019