Wen-Huei Cheng*


Life is always full of serendipity and coincidences, all the encounters and concurrences created the most incredible and indescribable miracles. Go with the flow, follow the vicissitude of life, countless opportunities came along, resulting in the most extraordinary happenings.

In 2007 and 2008, as the project director of “Modern Chinese Print Culture Research” at National Chengchi University (NCCU), I organised a series of lectures, international conferences, workshops and visiting programmes for international scholars; visited the Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) with the members of “Modern Chinese Print Culture Unit” ( and “Research Forum for Modern Chinese Print Culture” ( to learn about “The Database for the Study of Modern Chinese Thought 1830-1930” which took 10 years for Chair Professor Guan-tao Jin and Honorary Research Fellow Qing-feng Liu to establish.[1] I then invited Professor Jin and Professor Liu to give lectures at NCCU, sharing with us the latest research trends and findings in the history of ideas. Professor Jin was later invited to Department of Chinese Literature at NCCU as University Chair Professor, commencing the collaboration between NCCU and CUHK to develop and establish the first stage of “The Database for the Study of Modern Chinese Thoughts and Literature (1830-1930)”. Also, the forming of the research group for “The Formation and Development of Modern Chinese Identity” and the inter-university research group for “The Chinese Identity and the Formation of Modern State” was followed,[2]  aiming to apply the methodology of data mining[3] into the research of history of ideas.

As the expression, variation and dissemination of ideas and concepts are formed by and depend on language, the research of history of ideas thus accentuates how “new terms” are normalised and become “keywords”[4] in the process of interligual and intercultural reception and dissemination of the terms. With the normalisation process—the invention, development, transformation and standardisation—of new terms deeply ingrained within the social context, it is internalised by the society into various ideal types of conception and penetrates the structure of feeling. It further forms ideological systems which dominate social institution and cultural activities, develop new cultural guideline and strategies for action and even creates great energy for social remobilisation, cultural and historical re-identification, as well as reinforcement of social cohesion. Since ideas/concepts are the upmost yet primary constituents of ideological systems, when ideal types of concept or conceptual systems are widely accepted in the society as the tools to represent values and to communicate, the conceptual systems, with their ideological structure, provide great potency for social mobilisation and at the same time influence the shaping of culture, eventually resulting in the evolution and transformation of society. Therefore, ideas/concepts not only interact with social events and cultural actions, but also serve as important links between thoughts and these events and actions.

As a matter of fact, the development and change of thought and culture are involved with an ongoing process of construction, deconstruction and re-construction of ideologies which retain the values of cultural paradigm. When the cultural paradigm disappears or shifts, the fundamental ideas/concepts that form the values of paradigm might still remain and continue to exert influences on culture and everyday life in the form of “fragment of thought” [5] even if a specific ideology has deconstructed. In this case, only the relations between individual unit-ideas have been changed or reconstructed and the idea-complexes will further interweave and intertwist with each other, reconstructing and reforming new ideologies.

For ideas/concepts, the shift in the generation of signification in a given historical context happens within an extremely complicated and dynamic multi-dimensional structure. After multiple and multi-dimensional inter-referencing, ideas/concepts are incorporated into ideological value systems by means of keywords or keyword-complexes. As a result, to anlayse the linguistic context of keywords is the most efficient way to investigate the cultural context of ideas/concepts. However, it requires a team rather than individual to process the large amount of data and select relevant keywords and keyword-complexes to investigate the ever changing value systems in the flow of history. With the coming of digital era and information age, the development and establishment of research database, together with the methodologies of “data mining” and “keywords-complexes”[6], a new research approach and horizon for the research of history of idea has been revealed.

It is indeed a new endeavor and scientific exploration to incorporate modern computing technologies with humanities research. Late twentieth-century marks the advent of digital age, bringing revolutionary transformation in the display and reservation of knowledge and culture, as well as in academic research. This micro-revolution of knowledge also leads the operation of modern society and the production of knowledge. In the past, scholars and researchers usually focused on single individual, monograph or school and referred to a few documents and literatures; however, with the emergence of digital archive and digital humanities, the research model and methodology has experienced radical change. Digitalisation provides researchers with massive amount of and accessibility to explore various issues and deepen discussions by conducting cross-period, interregional, interdisciplinary and intercultural research. Moreover, based on digital literatures, the research of history of idea incorporates the “automated reasoning technology”, resulting in an innovative methodology for this field that combine different thinking logics in humanities research and digital technology This methodology is distinct from traditional research approach, which might facilitate the shift of traditional research paradigms for the history of ideas and history of thoughts, In addition, as it requests team work to establish database of keywords, which is very different from traditional research approach usually conducting by individual scholar, the new research approach formed by the cooperation of humanities and digital technology can not only process very substantial materials and data with minimal manpower, but discover new possibilities and perspectives for the issues found. As a result, digital humanities[7] can transcend the limitation of traditional humanities research and encourage interdisciplinary, cross-field studies by facilitating collaborative teamwork. [8]

Therefore, by adapting digital technology with humanities research in our research team, we are even clearer about our goal to set up an international academic journal with our international partners. In 2010, we invited Hallym Academy of Sciences, Hallym University, Korea to co-publish Journal of the History of Ideas in East Asia (JHIEA) and form a prominent editorial board to propose the direction and structure of JHIEA. Since December, 2010, there had been three preparatory meetings, two standing editorial meetings, and countless editorial meetings. Less than a year, we published an international academic journal centering on the research of history of ideas in East Asia. This journal is of great significance to us as well as the academia.

For the nations and regions in East Asia, the process for establishing cultural subjectivity is usually epitomised in the cultural representation of “self” and “other”. Furthermore, under globalization, it often appears as a complex process of cultural reformation involving intercultural interaction, exchange and negotiation of ideas/concepts. The production and dissemination of ideas/concepts and thoughts in a specific cultural context need to go through a certain level of “contextual turn”[9] to take deep root and flourish. The re-establishment of values in this cross-cultural “contextual turn” usually occurs in the reception and transposition of ideas/concepts. Thus, considering East Asia as an idea and a methodology,[10] a kind of language-discourse site, it is an inevitable and feasible research trend and approach to take on the research and contextual analysis of history of ideas. As a result, the trajectory of the development and transformation of those important and common cultural issues and the reshaping of ideal concepts in East Asia are disclosed, giving a more comprehensive historical picture of East Asia.

In particular, the different regions of East Asia shared common cultural experiences in early modern period, and the modern transformation of thoughts and ideas in East Asia was influenced by western culture and took place through the introduction, exchange and appropriation of thoughts and ideas within East Asian cultural sphere under globalisation. As the development of and reflection on ideal concepts, as well as the contextual turn of values in East Asia are related to the construction and reconstruction of conceptual systems and share common social-historical conditions and experiences, it is necessary to conduct an interdisciplinary, cross-region, inter-linguistic and transcultural research approach.

The publication of JHIEA is to integrate various research fields centering on the “research of history of ideas”, and encourage dialogues and exchanges among the international academic communities in this fields. Apart from presenting the latest academic development and research trend, demonstrating innovative research topics and important findings, JHIEA also aims to facilitate the sharing of analytical tools and research resources among the research communities of history of ideas around the world, and further explore related issues in order to portray the complex and dynamic interaction between East Asia ideas and the world. Moreover, under the new age of digitalisation, JHIEA is committed to promoting inter-linguistic, transcultural, transregional and interdisciplinary research cooperation and integration underpinned by a cooperative and exploratory spirit to inaugurate an innovative research methodology that incorporate humanistic thinking and digital technology for the purpose of the revolutionary breakthrough and radical development in the research of history of ideas. Furthermore, in terms of the dissemination, interaction and interplay of ideas in the East Asian cultural sphere, as well as the Pan-Asianism and internationalism in the history of ideas in East Asia, it is essential to seek the cooperation and resource sharing from East Asian and international academic communities, setting up a larger database for transnational, transcultural and inter-linguistic studies which can better illustrate the formation of modern ideas in East Asia and its historical development. It is the great pleasure and honour of JHIEA to have Hallym Academy of Sciences at Hallym University, Korea as the international partner for co-publication. JHIEA would also like to give thanks to the members of editorial board and the editors for their hard work and tremendous help. The publishing of JHIEA owes much to many helping hands and wonderful concurrences, it is the mission and vision of the journal to contribute to the research of history of ideas in East Asia.

The research of history of ideas in East Asia has its development context and genealogy; however, as globalisation and regionalism have been reinforced each other to form a strongly interdependent relation, a new historical framework and academic genealogy different from the past has been created. It is our vision and prospect that, through JHIEA, a whole new perspective and attitude for research underpinning the conversations between and reflections upon historicity and contemporaneity is created, bringing about an unprecedented academic statement and gesture. We expect to facilitate an even closer exchange and interaction among the East Asian and global academic communities, resulting in a powerful force that breaks all the research boundaries and conventions, goes beyond the limitation of schools, rewrites the traditional discourses and redefined the research scopes. We hope that, through intercultural, interdisciplinary and cross-language research collaboration, an open and innovative spirit will prompt a groundbreaking, radical development for humanities research in the digital era.

* Professor of Department of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University, Taiwan


[1] Professor Jin and Liu built “Database on History of Chinese Modern Thoughts (1830-1930)” from 1997 to 2007,  a research database including modern Chinese press, magazines, translations of missionary press and Western publication and various texts with total 120 million characters. In order to study the modern transformation of traditional political concepts in an efficient manner, the database includes full text of important and representative historical documents of early modern China. While focusing on electronic text for analysis, Professor Jin and Liu also keep an eye on the amelioration of the database to accommodate the research requirements, thus a constant improvement and adjustment on the functions of database was carried out by computer engineers. Moreover, for the possibilities of combining humanities and digital technology, the engineers were also asked to design the system with extensibility. During the 10 years of construction, Professor Jin and Liu also propose the new methodology “data-mining” for the research of history of ideas that centers on keywords with the purpose of disclosing the origin and formation of Chinese modern ideas under the Western impact. See Guan-tao Jin and Qing-fen Liu, Studies in the History of Ideas: The Formation of Important Modern Chinese Political Terms (Hong Kong: The Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture in The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2008), 5-6.

[2] Thanks to the subsidies of “Aim for the Top University Plan” of National Chengchi Univeristy for this research project.

[3] The research method of “data-miming” is to search and extract all the sentences including the keyword or keyword-complex responding to a certain idea, and then further conduct semantic analysis and investigate the frequency distribution of appearance and development of the keyword through time, for the purpose of disclosing the original and development of ideas in the broader historical framework. Guan-tao Jin and Qing-fen Liu, Studies in the History of Ideas, 5-6.

[4] This was the research topic proposed by Professor Kuang-che Pan, Institution of Modern History, Academia Sinica who was invited by “The Chinese Identity and the Formation of a Modern State”, a project conducted by Professor Wen-huei Cheng and Guan-tao Jin. Issue 2 of JHIEA thus invited Professor Pan to curate the special topic”From New terms to Keywords” to further explore the related issues.

[5] According to Professor Jin and Liu, “Ideology as the foundation for a legitimised social institution and as the guideline for social actions is based on a set of general ideas”. Therefore, “In order to grasp the remaining thoughts after the deconstruction of revolutionary ideologies, it is the most feasible to investigate those fundamental constituents of the ideologies which have undergone the construction and deconstruction of ideologies repeatedly yet survived with relatively stability”, and “Ideology is the systems of thought based on a set of basic ideas. The deconstruction of ideology does not suggest the disappearance of those basic ideas….but rather suggests the radical change of ” value judgement” of certain idea; however, the understanding on the core meaning and function of that specific idea remains. The deconstruction of ideology often results from the shift of relations between ideas. Guan-tao Jin and Qing-fen Liu, Studies in the History of Ideas, 2.

[6] Wei-yun Chiu, as the member of research group and a P.h. D student at Department of Chinese Literature in National Chengchi University at the time, analysed the development and transformation of “sovereignty” in the light of “Chinese” identity by focusing on the 4 million characters in Qingj iWaaijiao Shiliao 清季外交史料 (Historical Materials on Foreign Relations in the Late Qing) in the Database and established the digital method of “keyword-complex”. This research method is to extract the “keyword-complexes” of the target “ideas”, and then apply digital technology to regroup the keyword complexes found to examine their “co-occurrence” and collocation in order to further explore the process of the transplantation, reconstruction an dialogues of ideas, tracing the original, development of ideas and their interplay with others. As a result, a broader historical picture on the evolutional dynamics of ideas is displayed. Wei-yun Chiu, “A Discussion of the Keywords Cluster and Meaning of the Text Mining: Focusing on the Qing Diplomatic Historical Data(清季外交史料)” (paper presented at 2nd International Conference of Digital Archive and Digital Humanities, Taipei, Research Centre for Digital Humanities and National Taiwan University Library, 29-23 November 2010), in The Proceedings of 2nd International Conference of Digital Archive and Digital Humanities, Taipei: Research Centre for Digital Humanities,2010), 191-227.

[7] Guan-tao Jin, “The Theoretical Foundation of Digital Humanistic Studies,” in 2nd International Conference of Digital Archive and Digital Humanities, 9-25.

[8] Wen-huei Cheng, “The Impact and Metamorphosis of Chinese Studies in Digital Age” (paper presented at Symposium on the New Era of Chinese Studies in Taiwan, Taipei, Center for Chinese Studies 24 October 2011), in  The Proceedings of Symposium on the New Era of Chinese Studies in Taiwan (Taipei: Center for Chinese Studies, 2011), 55.

[9] Chun-Chieh Huang, “Some Notes on the Study of the History of Cultural Interactions in East Asia,” Historical Journal.

[10] For East Asia as a methodology, see  Nobukuni Koyasu, Dnngya Ruxue: Pīpan yu Fangfa 東亞儒學:批判與方法 (Confucian Studies in East Asia: Critique and Methodology), trans.Wei-fen Chen (Taipei: Taiwan Universiyt, 2004); Nobukuni Koyasu, Dongya lun: Rìben Xiandai Xīxiang Pipan 東亞論:日本現代思想批判(Confucian Studies in East Asia: The Critique om Japanese Modern Thoughts), trans. Jinghua Zhao (Changchun Jilin Publishing, 2010). To consider East Asia as a methodology is to delve into the construction of East Asia as an idea and the contextual turn of this idea, especially focusing on the reflection and the disenchantment of East Asia as a heterotopia to regard it as the representation of a real place and also a space for confrontations.

Inaugural Message by Wen-huei Cheng