Cheng Pei-kai

Cultural Historian

After graduating from National Taiwan University in Western Literature, Professor Pei-kai Cheng obtained his PhD in Chinese Cultural History from Yale University in 1980 and was a John King Fairbank post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University in 1981. He taught at State University of New York at Albany, Yale University and Pace University in New York for 20 years. He later founded the Chinese Civilization Center at City University of Hong Kong in 1998, serving as its director until his retirement in 2013. He has been a visiting professor at Zhejiang University, Peking University and University Professor at Fengjia University in Taiwan. Awarded the Medal of Honor by the Hong Kong government in 2016, he is now chairman of the Hong Kong Intangible Cultural Heritage Consultation Committee. He has published more than 30 books, and edited various series of collections on Chinese history and culture. His research interests cover a wide spectrum of academic subjects on Chinese culture, such as late Ming culture and Tang Xianzu, transcultural aesthetics, tea culture, Chinese export porcelain, and English translation of Chinese classics. He is also the founder of Chinese Culture Quarterly and has been its editor-in-chief since 1986.

People walk through Red Square's Resurrection Gate with backdrop of St. Basil's cathedral at the City Day celebrations in Moscow, Russia, 10 September 2022. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Cultural historian: Impressions of Moscow [Part 1]

In the first of four articles, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai shares his impressions of the Moscow he knew from a decade ago. He notes that in bleak and cold surroundings, facing an autocratic regime, a nation’s people found a way to survive. And whether it was against Napoleon or Hitler, the heavens always stood on the side of lumbering Russia as it waited out its opponents.
A general view of Flushing in New York, US, a vibrant Asian enclave. (SPH Media)

Cultural historian: Worth the train ride to Flushing, Queens for tasty jujube pastry

Never did cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai think that he would find the most authentic and delicious jujube pastry of his dreams in Flushing, Queens of New York City. How the suburb has changed in the last 40 years, transforming into somewhat of a Chinese food haven.
The interior of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace. (iStock)

Blue and white porcelain in Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace Museum

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls his visit to Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace Museum some years ago where precious pieces of Chinese blue and white porcelain from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties are housed. It was then that he understood why his scholar friends were adamant that a visit there was a pilgrimage to blue and white porcelain mecca.
How does a cup of HK$68 milk tea taste? (iStock)

Song dynasty emperor's brewing secrets in a cup of HK milk tea

As far as a passion for tea goes, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai meets his match in a tea shop owner in Sham Tseng. The tea connoisseur is an alchemist almost as he varies the ingredients and brewing methods to concoct the most memorable teas.
A general view of a village in Pu'er, Yunnan province, China, 12 May 2022. (Xinhua)

Can’t bear to part: A cultural historian in Yunnan's Pu’er

In Pu’er, Yunnan, if you get the chance to meet the Lahu, Wa, Yi, Hani or the Dai people, you’d be blessed, as cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai was, with their down-to-earth hospitality. Their ties to the land and their traditions are captured beautifully in Can’t Bear to Part, a folk song that every Pu’er native knows.
People tour the Autumn Moon on a Quiet Lake (平湖秋月), known as one of the “ten scenes of West Lake”, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 2 May 2022. (CNS)

Cultural historian: Fish as large as submarines in Hangzhou?

On a walk in the deserted Lingfeng Temple near Yuquan Botanical Garden in Hangzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai muses that peace and quiet is a blessing but a kiss of death for small teahouses trying to make a living. Also, memories of days gone by may be blurry over time. Either that or things have really changed, and one must face the sad reality that the good old days can never be brought back.
A couple takes their wedding photographs on West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 13 December 2021. (CNS)

My longing for the elusive fish of spring

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai was looking forward to sampling seasonal dishes during his recent visit to Hangzhou. Alas, not all restaurants are well prepared enough to serve up every seasonal dish a diner desires. Better luck next time.
Lion Rock in Hong Kong at sunset. (Photo: Nhk9/Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Cultural historian: A woman swinging on a branch and an abused tree

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai remembers the days when he lived at the foot of a hill in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Tong district. He enjoyed the serene calm and respected nature’s bounty, but he can’t say the same for some hill visitors who would ”abuse” the trees and take them for granted. Even giving trees will one day be worn out.
American poet Marianne Moore. Photograph by George Platt Lynes. (United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division)

On the dentist’s chair: American poet Marianne Moore’s scalpel

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai had an uncanny stroke of poetic inspiration or even possession, when he hazily “composed” American poet Marianne Moore’s works after a visit to the dentist. Might the gods have cast a spell on him and given him an experience of Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream?