Cheng Pei-kai

Cultural Historian

Prof. Pei-kai Cheng, graduated from National Taiwan University in Western Literature, Yale Ph.D in history, taught at State University of New York, Yale, and Pace University for 20 years before founding Chinese Civilization Center at City University of Hong Kong in 1998 and serving as its director until retirement in 2013. He has been a visiting professor at Zhejiang University, Peking University and University Professor at Fengjia University in Taiwan. Awarded Merit of Honor by Hong Kong government in 2016, he is now Chairman of 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 and Editor-in-chief of Chinese Culture Quarterly since 1986.

Television series The Empress of China starring Fan Bingbing as Wu Zetian. (Internet)

Tang dynasty's Wu Zetian: Was she a wise emperor or did she ruin the country?

A television series about Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, has Cheng Pei-kai reflecting about the semantics (read: politics) involved in the title bestowed on this charismatic figure. Did she live up to her many labels, or even more powerfully yet, was she really a character that defied any labels? History refuses to make a definite call.
Taiwan's carabet cuisine represents Taiwan's nostalgic flavours and can be regarded as an intangible cultural heritage. (iStock)

Taiwan’s nostalgic flavours, the glitterati and the kamikaze

As a child, Cheng Pei-kai believed that cabaret cuisine was forbidden food, due to the unsavoury reputations of the cabarets and clubs that served it. In the present, tasting the last vestiges of cabaret cuisine in Taiwan only reminds him to treasure them as part of an intangible cultural heritage. In a time long past, high society and average Joes alike partied with abandon and in some cases, had their last hurrah.
Imperial painter, Emperor Kangxi in his casual outfit at his writing desk (《康熙帝便装写字像》), partial, The Palace Museum. (Internet)

Beautiful or outdated? The journey of Chinese characters through the ages

Cheng Pei-kai reflects on what a blessing it is that Chinese characters have evolved yet stayed intact through the years and writers can still use them to create works of literature that stir the heart, mind and soul. The fact that Chinese characters work auditory and visual muscles all at once have more than a little to do with it.
A scene from Pai Hsien-yung's youth edition of The Peony Pavilion as performed in Esplanade, Singapore, in May 2009. (SPH)

Professor Littlewood and his love for Chinese opera

Cheng Pei-kai’s heart is gladdened when he witnesses his British friend’s pure fascination with Kunqu, the art of Chinese opera.
The entrance of Yuelu Academy.

Yuelu: 40 years of longing for a thousand-year-old Chinese academy

The cultural revolution had just ended when Cheng Pei-kai found himself in the chaotic streets of Changsha, with posters criticising Lin Biao, Confucius and even Deng Xiaoping plastered everywhere. He wanted to visit Yuelu Academy but his request was unfulfilled. More than forty years later, he finally made a visit. This institution that is regarded as one of the four great academies in ancient China ⁠— where exactly lies its charm?
Famous Tang dynasty poet, Du Fu. (Internet)

Du Fu and tofu are not the same thing

Not sure whether to laugh or cry, Cheng Pei-kai notes that cultural barriers are hard to break, not least when one tries to teach ancient Chinese poetry in English to a group of international students.
The wintersweet, the last remaining breath of fresh air in this cold, dark, chilly winter of Jiangnan. (iStock)

Wintersweet scents in Jiangnan

Cheng Pei-kai grows despondent on a dark day of winter in Suzhou, but perks up instantly with one whiff of wintersweet’s enigmatic scent.
Instant-boiled mutton: fresh, tasty, and heartwarming. (Internet)

Beijing’s instant-boiled mutton and sweet memories of childhood days in Taiwan

With a bowl of Beijing’s signature mutton hotpot in front of him, Cheng Pei-kai falls into a reverie about heavy things like poor sheep sent for the slaughter. But not for long as he tucks in with gusto, lost in the food memories of his childhood.
West Lake in autumn. (iStock)

Autumn musings by the West Lake

Many an intellectual has been inspired by the legendary West Lake in Hangzhou. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is no exception. He reflects on the passage of time as he strolls through the beautiful landscape of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.