Culture

Blue tiger butterflies. (Facebook/蔣勳)

What is the colour of 青春 (qingchun), or youth?

In Chinese terminology, the colour which looks a lot like cyan is called qing (青). Yet it is used in many contexts and may even refer to black. What do we mean when we say qing and what do we understand by it? The permutations are vast, if we are open to them. In a similar vein, fixated ideas or assumptions can be the very barrier that obstructs one from seeing that which is truly beautiful. Free your mind, let loose a little, art historian Chiang Hsun says, to experience life in its full splendour.
Suzhou Museum, a masterpiece of world-renowned architect I.M. Pei. (Suzhou Museum official website)

Suzhou Museum: Why I.M. Pei failed to learn the lessons of the ancient Chinese

The building and landscape architecture of Suzhou Museum has been lauded for its intricate blend of old and new. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is in awe of the late architect I.M. Pei, but sees at the same time, the need for man-made landscapes to blend into their natural environment. Otherwise, the handprints of their maker will all be too visible and the result far from the scenes of nature it was precisely trying to capture.
What did Confucius say about the colour purple? (iStock)

Did Confucius abhor the colour purple?

Art historian Chiang Hsun sifts through countless shades of purple. Like the vicissitudes of life, they are at once strong yet fragile, beautiful yet complex, and transient yet everlasting.
Proverbs encapsulate profound life experiences and reveal a culture's thoughts and way of life. (iStock)

Proverbs and sayings: Understanding a culture's biases, thoughts and way of life

Proverbs and sayings are not just traditional phrases handed down from generation to generation, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. Dissected, they reveal a culture’s biases, thoughts and way of life. Understanding a country’s proverbs is understanding the people that use them.
Cicada songs fill the forest in the summertime. (iStock)

Cicada songs: Deathly silence of a summer’s day

Cicadas are peculiar creatures of nature. They spend years burrowing underground before they emerge from the undergrowth, make a racket, and return to dust just a short time later. Art historian Chiang Hsun reflects on life and death as he listens to the cicada’s chant on a hot summer’s day.
The delectable miantuo liuyuehuang dish. (Internet)

Remembering a mother’s beautiful smile and Suzhou's ‘Sixth Moon yellow’ crabs

Every autumn, what a treat it is to savour hairy crabs, or Chinese mitten crabs as they are also known. Better yet if you can catch that tiny window in late summer when the mignon “Sixth Moon yellow” crabs from Yangcheng Lake in China’s Jiangsu province are in season. Harvested when they are on the cusp of adulthood, these crustaceans’ sweetness and vitality are a spitting image of carefree summer days of our youth.
Czech author and illustrator Miroslav Šašek has captured sights and scenes of Hong Kong in the 1960s.

Czech illustrator Miroslav Šašek and his images of Hong Kong from the 1960s

In the 1960s, Czech author and illustrator Miroslav Šašek came to Hong Kong and captured the sights and scenes of that period in This is Hong Kong, one of the books in his “This is…” series of children’s picture books. Cup Media has recently published a Chinese version of the book, in a timely throwback to good old Hong Kong, before any of the current unrest took hold of the city.
How do the ancient Chinese drink tea? (iStock)

How to drink tea like an ancient Chinese

Smoked bean tea, ghee tea or jade porcelain ground tea, anyone? Cheng Pei-kai turns tea-drinking conventions on their head as he shows that in history, tea appreciation was not just the domain of the sophisticated or the elegant. Common folk throughout the dynasties found innovative ways to have a cuppa, often with more than a few surprises tossed in.
Barringtonia racemosa flowers. (Facebook/蔣勳)

What I Ching and the mangrove tree flowers tell us about life

Chiang Hsun contemplates the transience of life as he observes the fleeting lifespan of mangrove tree flowers found along the riverbanks of Southeast Asia, southern China and elsewhere. Every flower has its own place and purpose, but like life, its brilliance is extinguished all too fast. How can one discern the meaning of life then? Perhaps the three-thousand-year-old book of I Ching offers us some clues.