Digital Humanities – China

Digital humanities as defined by the Göttingen Center for Digital Humanities “is an area of research, teaching, and development concerned with the intersection of computing and the various disciplines of the Humanities” (see link above).

It all began with an unlikely cooperation between an Italian Jesuit priest and an American businessmen and computer technology mogul in the 1940s: Roberto Busa, a theologian and linguist set out to compile a comprehensive index of the works of Thomas Aquinas (the Index Thomisticus, which was later expanded to a digital Corpus Thomisticum). Busa began his works with index cards, but he soon realized he would need computing for this task as Thomas Aquinas had been a prolific writer, his work comprising over ten million words. So Busa sought help in the USA, met with the head of IBM Thomas Watson, and convinced him to help to turn his index cards into punched cards and later into magnetic tapes for IBM machines (see Busa 1980).

What began as “literary and linguistic computing” with the work of Busa has now developed into a much broader understanding of digital humanities. However, this development did not equally pervade all fields of humanities. Digital editions, also dubbed “the bread-and-butter business” of digital humanities (see Lauer 2013, p. 105), still make up a majority of all ventures. This also holds true for Chinese studies as the application of digital tools to support research in Chinese history, culture, and politics is still in its infancy, and a majority of projects focus on the digitalization of texts.

Nonetheless, scholars from around the world engage in fascinating projects making use of digital tools to enhance our understanding of Chinese literature and linguistics as well as to uncover relational data using digital social network analysis tools. The aim of this page is, therefore, to present some of their work and the most interesting methods and approaches in this field of Chinese studies.

The lists of digital tools and databases presented here might be of interest to advanced researchers, yet this page is mainly written for undergraduate and graduate students who might think about employing digital tools for their research but do not know which software or databases to use.


Busa, R. (1980): The Annals of Humanities Computing, Computers and Humanities, 14 (2), pp. 83-90.

Lauer, G. (2013): Die digitale Vermessung der Kultur – Geisteswissenschaften als Digital Humanities.In: H. Geiselberger and T. Moorstedt (eds).: Big Data. Das neue Versprechen der Allwissenheit. Berlin: Suhrkamp, pp. 99-116.