Culture

A pu-erh cake and cups of pu-erh tea. (iStock)

Pu-erh: The raw, the ripe and the Qing dynasty 'tribute tea' from Yunnan

Cheng Pei-kai recalls the mellow, earthy appeal of aged pu-erh, where tea leaves are compressed into cakes and left to ferment for decades to develop a complex flavour. Recently, he also got the chance to taste a young pu-erh — made with tea leaves from a tree that Qing dynasty soldiers used to guard and which was sent to the emperor as “tribute tea”, no less.
A vendor arranges books at her stall at the Panjiayuan antique market in Beijing, China, on 19 November 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Are the Chinese truly collecting art?

With China’s increasing affluence, the nouveau riche are investing in art and cultural artefacts. Wu Zetian’s pleated skirt, exquisite paper from the Southern Tang dynasty, a painting by early 20th century painter Qi Baishi — authentic or not, all are fair game and acquired at the best price. What a shame, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. If only the collector’s hand is not sullied by such commerce.
People wearing face masks walk along a shopping centre in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on 1 January 2021. (Noel Celis/AFP)

'Perhaps we are from the same hometown?': A reflection on human relations throughout Chinese history

In this life, are we journeying together or just passing ships in the night? Chiang Hsun ponders the degrees of separation between people who share the same earth. What keeps us walking in parallel, never breaking down customary barriers?
Bruce Lee was an outstanding martial artist. He was an excellent communicator who brought together the cultures of East and West and changed Western perceptions of Asians as small and weak.

[Photo Story] Hong Kong was once the Hollywood of the East

Hong Kong has produced many excellent films and stars in its time, especially during its heyday in the 1980s. Names such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Chow Yun-fat are familiar to people in both Asia and the West. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao brings back the shared memories of generations.
The charming Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou. (iStock)

When a professor falls in love with Suzhou during the Cultural Revolution

Like the gentlemen in poems of yore who were love-struck by fair maidens, Cheng Pei-kai falls in love with Suzhou at first sight. His is a cultural love story that has stood the test of time.
Winter warmers: A bowl of rich mutton soup. (iStock)

China's thousand-year-old mutton soup

Northern Chinese mutton soup is rich, hearty and bold-flavoured, standing in sharp contrast to the delicate cuisine of the south. The dish is an emblem of the gruff and big-hearted heroism of civil wars past and the grandeur of the Han and Tang dynasties. Indeed, traces of history are left behind in every drop of a good bowl of mutton soup.
People cross a street during morning rush hour in Beijing, China, 15 December 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Would Confucius have approved of the death penalty?

A Confucius saying goes: “When the wind blows, the grass bends.” Therefore fault not the common man, says Chiang Hsun, but the decision-makers at the top. But taking a step further back, who are we to cast the first stone at anyone?
Train stations are part of the collective memory of generations of commuters who used them. (iStock)

History, collective memory and the beauty of Taiwan's old train stations

Like a song, a place can trigger a memory, an emotion. Preserving little landmarks is akin to preserving the collective memory of a city, says Chiang Hsun. Shared memories, more than any loud declaration, are the cornerstone of a people’s culture, heritage and sense of belonging.
A long-awaited date with hairy crabs. (iStock)

From New York to Suzhou: A professor's guide to eating hairy crabs

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls the very first time he tasted Yangcheng Lake’s famed hairy crabs, not in China, but in New York. Since then, he has been smitten with the Chinese mitten crab, and is in no doubt as to why this delicacy takes pride of place in China’s food heritage.