Culture

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.
Traditional Chinese dancers in full costume. (iStock)

How the Chinese learned dance and music before there was YouTube or TikTok

Former journalist Lim Jen Erh reflects on two boxes of old books he chanced upon, containing dance manuals and guqin scores. Before the advent of technology, these old volumes were the only way to pass on such knowledge and instructions, which makes them invaluable today.
Plain porridge with pickled lettuce is enough for a hearty breakfast. (iStock)

Pickled vegetables, fermented beancurd and stinky egg: An art historian's love of preserved foods

Ensconced in Dapu village in Chishang, a Hakka enclave where air-drying is a common way to preserve food, art historian Chiang Hsun muses about the ways that Chinese and others around the world have ingeniously learnt how to preserve food for long periods of time from methods ranging from pickling to salt-curing and air-drying. In food preservation as in life, time builds character and patience often yields rewards.
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.
Showcasing rare masterpieces of Chinese ink, the Xiu Hai Lou Collection includes breathtaking pieces by major artists such as Ren Bonian, Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong and Zhang Daqian. (National Gallery Singapore)

Singapore’s Xiu Hai Lou Collection and what it tells us about late 19th-20th century Chinese art

Private collector Yeo Khee Lim (1917-1998) amassed one of the earliest and most comprehensive collections of late 19th-20th century Chinese art since he started collecting them in the 1940s and 50s. The stories in the collection — of literati painters, the Shanghai School, the Lingnan School, the Teochews and the Nanyang painters who passed through and lived on our shores — have been told before in exhibitions put up by Yeo himself and later by the National Gallery and others. But in a recent NTU conference on the life of Yeo Khee Lim, the importance of the prized collection comes back to the fore.
A roadside offering of iced gem biscuits. (Photo: Terence Heng)

Lasting ties: Food for the departed

In life as in death, food brings people together and is a means to commune with one another, as seen in rituals during the seventh lunar month or Hungry Ghost Festival. Perhaps in feeding the spirits of the dearly departed, the unknown and indeed their own, people are reminded that an ending is not the end and that the bond between the living and dead is never broken.
The woodcut of a satay seller at work, given to the writer. (Lim Jen Erh)

The stories behind the woodcuts

A gift from a friend prompts former journalist Lim Jen Erh to think about the stories behind the scenes depicted in woodcuts, from simple days in school to the final days of the tongkangs on the Singapore River, and the artform that can be traced back to China, especially the modern woodcut illustration movement led by literary giant Lu Xun in the 1930s.
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.
Eminent historian and sinologist Yü Ying-shih. (Photo taken from Tang Prize website)

Yü Ying-shih saw Hong Kong as beacon of hope for the Chinese-speaking world

Vancouver-based academic Leo K. Shin remembers his former professor, eminent historian and sinologist Yü Ying-shih, on the first anniversary of the latter’s passing. He says Yü was a staunch defender of humanity intrinsic in Chinese culture who always spoke up against the use of cultural tenets for political gain or acts against human dignity. It comes as no surprise then that he understood well the significance of Hong Kong as a beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights.