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.

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.
Hong Kongers should be effectively bilingual, but the majority of university students are failing English, consistently getting the ‘D' and ‘E’ grades. What has become of university education in Hong Kong? (iStock)

Lost in translation: What has become of university education in Hong Kong?

When cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is tasked to use the English language to teach Chinese literature to Hong Kong students, he questions if it is all a ploy to help students improve their standard of English. Such a shame it is then, how gems of China’s precious literary and cultural heritage are withered away in every nuance lost in translation.
Giuseppe Castiglione, Emperor Qianlong Inspecting Troops (《乾隆皇帝大阅图》), The Palace Museum. (Internet)

Suzhou’s way to the Emperor’s heart

Refined and steeped in natural flavours, it’s no wonder that Emperor Qianlong had a soft spot for Suzhou cuisine. Cheng Pei-kai shares the menu.
Toutangmian with stewed meat topping. (Internet)

Art and history in a bowl of Suzhou noodles

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai knows his bowl of Suzhou noodles. How is the toutangmian or head soup noodles connected to landscape poetry, Neo-Confucianism and Song dynasty music? And is it going to be the end of the world, if McDonald’s were to sell Suzhou noodles? Prof Cheng shares his thoughts.