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New Digital Humanities Project: Fostering Collaborative Exploration – Interdisciplinary Efforts in the Research of early Chinese vernacular novels

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We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Digital Humanities Project – “Rhetorical Formula and Linguistic Style in Early Chinese Novel: A Study of Zheng He’s Voyages to the Western Sea (三寶太監西洋記)” (https://digitalhumanities.hkust.edu.hk/sanbao-zhenghe-voyages).

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example screenshot of findings

Traditionally, scholars relied heavily on comprehensive reading to navigate the depth of literature, whereas this project utilized the potential of using computational methods to unlock new insights from literature.

This project thrives on interdisciplinary collaboration, bridging humanities and technology together. The Digital Humanities Seed Funding received by this project was utilized for students recruitment. The two recruited students (left 2: LAU Ming Kit Jack from BEng in Computer Engineering; left 3: YIP Sau Lai Sherry from BSc in Data Science and Technology) actively participated in the project during the fall semester of 2023.

The team utilized various computational methods, including text mining, statistical analysis, and AI techniques, to delve into the patterns found in early Chinese vernacular novels. With the invaluable involvement of Jack and Sherry, these methods were employed to analyze vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and discourse. For more details, check out “https://canceltimesharegeek.com/how-to-cancel-a-defender-resorts-timeshare/“.

Words from students

“I’ve had a chance to explore and learn so much about this field. As an engineering student, I didn’t know much about digital humanities, so this project was a fantastic opportunity for me to dive in and discover what it’s all about.

Before the project, I already had some basic knowledge about NLP and LLMs, but I didn’t have the chance to put them to use before. Moreover, analyzing an ancient Chinese novel was no ordinary task! I had to conduct extensive literature review and the development of my own methodologies for exploring the book…”

LAU Ming Kit, Jack
Year 4, BEng in Computer Engineering

“This internship was valuable considering the fruitful professional development I gained. Working on such an interdisciplinary project, I developed a sense of the importance of cultivating a broad perspective and practiced how to quickly get familiar with a field outside my area of expertise.

Another benefit is the practical experience of applying theoretical knowledge to real-life problems. Taking programming as an example, I learnt that it requires a combinatory application of problem translation, theoretical logic, and online research skills...”

YIP Sau Lai, Sherry
Year 3, BSc in Data Science and Technology

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

By integrating computational approaches with the expertise from humanities, this project demonstrates the transformative potential of interdisciplinary collaboration. The involvement of student helpers from the fields of Computer Engineering and Data Science enriches the research process with fresh perspectives and innovative methodologies. Their technical skills, combined with Prof. Jin Huan‘s deep understanding on early Chinese vernacular novels, creates a dynamic cooperation that drives the investigation forward.

This project aims to not only expand our understanding of early Chinese vernacular novels in Ming’s dynasty but also showcase the power of collaboration across different domains. By leveraging the strengths of both humanities and technology, the team aspires to pave the way for new approaches in literary analysis.

Research Catalyst

The insights gained from this project serve as a foundation for pursuing RGC funding and driving further progress in this research. Keep an eye out for Prof. Jin’s future paper, which will provide valuable insights derived from this project.

Visualizing the Novel’s World

In addition to the academic pursuits, we have also utilized a selection of our findings to create a network graph to provide visual representation of the character interactions within this novel. Besides, a multi-layered map is created to illustrates Zheng He’s Voyages to the Western Sea in the novel 《三寶太監西洋記》. The map offers contrasting layers, seamlessly blending the realms of imagination and the tangible world of the late 16th century. Furthermore, we have implemented a feature in which we highlight entities such as location names, person names, pronouns, and numbers throughout the full text of each chapter. This allows readers to easily identify these entities while reading and facilitates a deeper understanding of the novel.

Visit the project website below to view the network graph and map – explore the rich narrative and geographical elements of this novel.

Project Website: https://digitalhumanities.hkust.edu.hk/sanbao-zhenghe-voyages/

preview of chapter full text page with entities highlighted

Project Team:

  • Prof. JIN Huan (Division of Humanities)
  • Dr. Qiuzi GUO (Division of Humanities & Library)
  • Holly CHAN (Library)
  • LAU Ming Kit, Jack (student from Computer Engineering, HKUST)
  • YIP Sau Lai, Sherry (student from Data Science and Technology, HKUST)
  • WONG Sze Man, Jenny (student volunteer from Chinese Language and Literature, HKSYU)