Culture

The Grand Hotel is illuminated with the Chinese characters '平安' (Peace) in Taipei, Taiwan, 3 June 2021. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)

Taiwanese art historian: What flowers and swallows taught me about life amid the pandemic

As art historian Chiang Hsun recites the Diamond Sutra and prays for the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, he believes in the adage that "this too shall pass". In tough times, we must remind ourselves to be grateful for the breath of life and to be kind to one another. May humankind be safe and well in their warm homes, wherever they may be.
People walk along an alley in Zhenjiang Xijin Ferry site, said to be the birthplace of Zhenjiang ham jelly. (iStock)

A Chinese deity and a ham jelly with a 300-year-old history

With each bite of Zhenjiang ham jelly, a traditional dish of Jiangsu province, Cheng Pei-kai remembers local folklores and heroes. There was Zhang Guolao, an immortal who dared to try meat accidentally cured with saltpeter, and also national hero Shi Kefa, who defended Yangzhou with his last breath. What would they have thought of today's tourists, nonchalantly trying a slice of ham jelly or two?
Xishan, Jiangsu in China (left) and Modica, Sicily in Italy (right).

Egyptian-American architect: I see China in rural Italy

In this photo series, Hisham Youssef captures unexpected parallels between the countryside in China and Italy. Different cultures and many miles apart, the similarities are uncanny.
A barber in a barbershop.

'Life is indeed like a dream': A cultural historian returns to the barbershop of his childhood

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai visits his hometown in Taiwan, going for a haircut on a whim. He and the barber are lost in their own thoughts as the shaver buzzes on. 40 years have whizzed by since they last met; their memories hang in the silence, like a time capsule frozen in time.
Tea fields in Anxi. (iStock)

Exploring Dehua porcelain and Anxi tea with a Dutchman

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls his study tour in Dehua county sampling tea as he visited dragon kilns and pottery workshops. He was delighted to extend warm hospitality to a Chinese-speaking Dutchman who was there to learn about Dehua porcelain and Anxi tea.
Generous chunks of mutton keep the foodie heart happy and the body warm. (iStock)

Morning call in Zhejiang: Mutton with shaojiu

In Haiyan county, Zhejiang, local fishermen used to down a bowl of piping hot braised mutton with shaojiu before battling the icy winds at sea. Now, local trades dominated by textiles and hardware have moved onto land. But the tradition of rising at dawn for braised mutton and a tipple lives on. 
A glimpse of some of China's vanishing trades.

An Egyptian-American architect's photographs of China's vanishing trades

In his travels across China, Hisham Youssef trains his street photographer’s eye on some of the vanishing arts and trades that have endured for long but are now under threat of disappearing as China modernises.
Songluo tea-making process: an emphasis is placed on picking the right leaves and controlling the fire when roasting and drying the leaves.

Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, will Songluo tea make a comeback?

Songluo tea had once found ardent fans in the literati of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. The emphasis on kneading the tea leaves into tiny balls after roasting is the secret to Songluo tea’s rich aroma and highly refreshing taste. Will modern audiences perhaps more familiar with Longjing or pu-erh appreciate this tea’s restrained elegance once more?
A massive banyan tree. Trees are worshipped like gods in rural areas and are not cut down easily. (iStock)

Taiwanese art historian: 'Lord of the banyan tree' and his grand wisdom

In a simpler age, rural communities wisely followed folk religions that respected the seasons, land and nature. Chiang Hsun rues today’s reality where modern life has encouraged the neglect of these cardinal rules, leading to environmental damage and other adverse effects.