Transparency, Control Mechanisms, and Social Trust In Chinese History

Workshop | October 20 | 1:30-4:30 p.m. | East Asian Library, Art History Seminar Room

 Trenton Wilson, EALC,UC Berkeley; Michael Nylan, History, UC Berkeley; Natasha Heller, Religious Studies, University of Virginia; Thomas Hahn, Berkeley independent scholar

 Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)

This session, while designed for graduate students, is open to the public. Talks will be 35 minutes each, so as to leave ample time for discussion.

Workshop theme and impetus:
Zhu Xi (1130-1200), echoing Wang Bi’s (226-249) reading of the Analects, wrote, "to anticipate duplicity and dishonesty will, I fear, give rise to a mechanical mind" (jixie zhi xin). Following after Zhu Xi, we might say that the attempt to surveil the actions of others and to develop technologies to "know in advance" what will happen, implicates our very humanity. China’s modern social credit system or the advent of "surveillance capitalism" propels us to think about the relationship between surveillance, security and social trust. In this workshop, we will explore this relationship as it appears in China’s past and present. What methods, institutional and otherwise, were developed for transparency, social control, and surveillance in Chinese history? What were the ethical and political implications of surveillance and mutual suspicion? What is the relationship between transparency and trust, in China (and in the US, for that matter)? How much does the fear of chaos drive China now, and how much did it drive it in early and middle-period times? Thinking through these questions helps us to understand the ways communities at various scales have sought to regulate human relations, and the intellectual and ideological resources they have drawn upon in doing so.

Four participants:
1. Trenton Wilson (UC-Berkeley) in his paper will focus on readings of Analects 14.31 (不逆詐), in relation to suspicion and mistrust, as well as rule by perspicacity (ming 明), to pose some of the larger ethical questions relating to this issue.
2. Michael Nylan (UC-Berkeley, History), discuss the early empires (late Zhanguo, Qin, and Western Han), looking at the institutions ascribed to Shang Yang and later to the Qin dynasty. Yuri Pines has suggested the Qin forms of state organization created in essence a thoroughly "modern" empire that then regressed until modern times. While many scholars accept this vision, Nylan thinks it ahistorical. Her counter-argument draws mainly upon sources in classical Chinese, read in conjunction with modern theoretical works.
3. Natasha Heller (UVA, Religious Studies) will discuss baojia 保甲 and xiangyue 鄉約 in the Song dynasty, looking at how they sought to shape standards of community behavior in different ways, and how such forms of social control related to state administration and self-cultivation.
4. Thomas Hahn (Heidelberg Ph.D., Berkeley independent scholar) (will discuss machine-generated algorithms in contemporary societies, AI, AGI and science fictional systems dominating the popular mind versus the notions (some, with a reasonable amount of justification, would say threats) of "surveillance capitalism" and "digital totalitarianism" in China and elsewhere.