Culture

A digital recreation of the painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河图, Qingming Shanghe Tu) is seen on display at the exhibition, A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art, at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, Singapore. (SPH)

Copying is a virtue in Chinese ink painting

Temporary orders to halt the KAWS public art installation exhibition led Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre CEO Low Sze Wee to ponder the copyright issues of Chinese ink paintings. He notes that many of Singapore’s first-generation artists like Chen Wen Hsi and Fan Chang Tien were educated in Shanghai in the 1920s and were deeply influenced by the Shanghai School. Copying was a common mode of learning, and students like Henri Chen Kezhan and Chua Ek Kay did their best to copy the works of their teachers. While they eventually developed their own styles over time, Low says it could be argued that their achievements were made possible by their formative years spent on copying.
In this file photo taken on 6 March 2021, demonstrators throw masks into a fire during a mask burning event to protest Covid-19 restrictions, at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, US. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images North America/AFP)

How the pandemic overturned my understanding of Americans

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. Even now, scenes on television are rife with pandemic news in the US. Watching health workers refusing to get vaccinated or the population spurning masks in defence of their freedoms, Cheng wonders why some people are willing to be “martyrs” for the cause they believe in. Or worse, are they just foolishly courting the virus? Maybe this really shows a great gulf in attitudes between the East and West.
Renowned Chinese philosopher Li Zehou. (Weibo)

Growing up (and old) with Chinese philosopher Li Zehou

Think of how the switching between languages, cultures and epistemologies can itself be an integral part of reading and writing, and extend this to a thinker’s broadest philosophical opus, in concepts, articulations and communications — that is the work of Chinese philosophy great Li Zehou (1930-2021), says former Singapore Art Museum director, Kwok Kian Chow.
Thousands of supporters of former US President Donald Trump listen to local and state politicians speak during a "Save America" rally at York Family Farms on 21 August 2021 in Cullman, Alabama, US. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Pandemic diary (Chapter 6): When democracy is despotic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. But that is just the outward appearance of calm. Inside, he seethes with indignation as he rues the politics of life and greed, the democracy that politicians tout and the world that will be changed yet oddly stay the same after Covid-19. Have we come to a stage where not even a pandemic can teach us the lessons we need to learn?
A man (left) offers incense sticks to his ancestors at a temple in Hong Kong on 21 August 2021, marking the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Bertha Wang/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [3 of 3]: The netherworld and the state machine

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. In this third article of the series, he teases out the difference in Chinese notions of happiness compared to other cultures. Rather than a moral code, bureaucracy and social mores have ruled people’s lives. Thus, the living leave practical objects in tombs for the deceased’s sustenance in the Underground, and magic spells to ward off harm against their living kin. In death, one is finally freed from the shackles of life.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest Covid-19 vaccination and mask mandates. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)

Pandemic diary (Chapter 5): The huge difference between Hong Kong and American societies

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. With all gatherings cancelled, he only had the incessant news on the coronavirus for company. On one occasion, an interview on American television was particularly jarring: someone was lambasting social distancing rules and venting her frustrations at the disruptions to everyday life. Where do people have the gall to blame everyone but themselves? Did the pomposity of their country’s leader rub off on them? Cheng felt the huge difference between American and Hong Kong societies.
A man walks through a cemetery in Diamond Hill in Hong Kong on 14 October 2021, during the Chung Yeung Festival, also known as the Double Ninth Festival, where people honour their ancestors. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [2 of 3]: The netherworld is closer to us than you might think

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. In this second article of the series, he describes how the ancients prepared the tombs of the deceased: the lavish chambers and paraphernalia thrown in suggest they wanted the dead to be comfortable in their afterlives. Or maybe it was for the living to assure themselves that unfulfilled aspirations in life could be achieved in death?
Often in rural China, a couple would travel far to find work in cities, leaving their offspring behind with their grandparents as pictured here in rural Yunnan.

China’s rural elderly: The disappearing keepers of tradition

The rural elderly are the guardians of local traditions, says Hisham Youssef, an Egyptian-American architect based in Shanghai. On his travels to the Chinese countryside, he sees aged craftsmen labouring quietly, often with no one to pass their skills on to. Will precious culture and traditions disappear without a trace at this rate? How can this group’s life experiences be best harnessed and passed down and the youth attracted to stay or return to carry on family trades?
People look at a billboard showing former US President Donald Trump in Times Square in New York, US, 14 October 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Pandemic diary (Chapter 4): The president who spread a political virus

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. He dwelled in his home in Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha, but he was never far from the drama of global Covid-19 news, beamed in from TV and computer screens. The pomposity of one politician stood out — in the face of a life-threatening disease, how could the leader of the world’s largest economy and even the league of nations have set such a poor example and gotten away with it?