Cheng Pei-kai

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.

A quick sketch of the author's "study room" by Lücha. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

A study room of one’s own: 21st century Chinese intellectuals and their pursuit of knowledge

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai shares the ups and downs of being an avid reader, from the difficulties in keeping his book collection neat and orderly, to the joy of having a handful of treasured books. He marvels at the sketches a friend made of the study rooms of literati, academics and calligraphers who have since passed on. While his study room is crammed with books and looks more like a storeroom, his love for books burns bright like it does for fellow literati.
People fry youtiao at a stall. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

In search of Taiwan's perfect youtiao and soy milk breakfast

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai takes us on a search for delicious shaobing youtiao and savoury soy milk around Yonghe in Taiwan. While a common breakfast for many, the rich flavours from his youth are not one easily replicated or found.
The Lion Grove Garden in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China. (Photo: Haryani Ismail)

Bai Juyi: This Tang dynasty poet enjoyed a good life

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai gives us a glimpse into the life of Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi, whose later years were leisurely spent as a carefree and frivolous official often writing about the blazing heat of summer.
John Taylor, circa 1610, Chandos portrait, National Portrait Gallery. (Wikimedia)

Shakespeare, Su Shi and Tang Xianzu: The dates of birth and death of literary greats

The dates of birth and death of literary greats — especially those who lived centuries ago when the calendar used may not have been the same as we use today — can be confusing and difficult to pin down. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai looks at the example of William Shakespeare and several Chinese poets, noting that in the end, perhaps it is not so important whether or not we have an exact date.
Wang Xizhi, known as the Sage of Calligraphy (书圣). (Weibo)

A pilgrimage of the heart: Paying homage to Jin dynasty calligrapher Wang Xizhi

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai takes us back to his trip to Shengzhou, Zhejiang, where he visited the gravesite of Jin dynasty calligrapher Wang Xizhi, the Sage of Calligraphy. In the depths of the lush forest with mountains peeking through, what does it mean to travel the distance to pay respects to an ancestor and honour their virtues?
Young performers wait to take part in the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong, China, on 28 September 2023. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

It’s Mid-Autumn: Time for some mung bean pastry

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai writes of the humble mung bean pastry, a classic snack of the people that has been made in the traditional way for generations in Taiwan. Now, the well-loved pastry has been given new spins in modern times, from “Florence-style mung bean pastry” to a lacto-vegetarian version named after Chinese poet Li Bai.
A Turkish national flag (left) and a banner bearing the portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic, hang from the exterior of a building in the Sisli district of Istanbul, Turkey, on 29 August 2022. (Nicole Tung/Bloomberg)

Why Turkey's national hero was honoured in Taiwan

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai muses on how heroes of the past are honoured after their time, recalling that in his youth in Taiwan, the founder of the Turkish republic was lauded as an honourable founding father, next to Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. However, given the similarities in ideals and values, could it be that the high praise for Ataturk was in fact meant to boost the controversial image of Chiang?
A man rides a bike while sheltering from the rain in Beijing, China, on 31 July 2023. (Pedro Pardo/AFP)

Did Mongolians mistreat the Han Chinese during the Yuan dynasty?

It is commonly believed that the Mongol-ruled Yuan dynasty instituted a “four-class system” comprising the Mongols, the Semu, the Han people and the Southerners; they may even have categorised people into ten classes for which Confucian scholars were at the bottom rungs. Taken as truth for centuries, what is the “historical reality” of the matter? Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai examines the issue.
People flock to the Che Kung Temple in Hong Kong, China, to pray and ask for blessings. (iStock)

Interpreting a divination lot from Hong Kong's Che Kung Temple

Did the wise men understand the profundity of the words “Instead of flattering ao (奥), it is better to flatter zao (灶)” when they used it as an oracle in the drawing of divination lots? Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai delves into the historical background of the quote from the Analects and what we can learn from it.