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Boy and schoolgirl walk through a boarded-up neighbourhood in Laoximen.

An American-Egyptian architect's poignant photographs of disappearing Shanghai neighbourhoods

After ten years of living in Shanghai and seeing the rapid changes to the city, American-Egyptian architect Hisham Youssef takes us on a nostalgic and personal photographic tour of the lanes and neighborhoods that, until very recently, stood in the city he now calls home.
This photo taken on 20 March 2021 shows people viewing cherry blossoms in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China. (STR/AFP)

Taiwanese art historian: Why we no longer find beauty in contemporary art

Art colleges today may be missing the point by teaching students various forms of aesthetics without offering a true path to beauty. An affinity for beauty — to see, appreciate, and ultimately to create it — is best honed keeping close to nature, says art historian Chiang Hsun. Qing dynasty calligrapher and painter Zheng Banqiao would have approved. After all, didn't he ask, “If people really love birds, why not plant more trees?”
The Larung Gar, a community in Sertar County of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Sichuan, China.

The ‘other’ Shangri-La: A journey through western Sichuan

Shivaji Das, author of travelogue “The ‘Other’ Shangri-la: Journeys through the Sino-Tibetan Frontier in Sichuan”, captures vignettes of life in the picturesque mountains of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan. At the end of his journey, he asks: Would Shangri-La become indistinguishable from Disneyland? Would Han cultural hegemony obliterate every other peculiarity once a mesh of high-speed trains, all-weather roads, and Weibo accounts spread out in the region? Or would an environment of mutual trust, understanding, and accommodation be established? 
Makgeolli, usually served in a shallow bowl and downed with gusto. (iStock)

East Asian literati, Korean rice wine and writhing octopus tentacles

Sampling makgeolli or Korean rice wine with friends from the academic community in Seoul, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is transported back in time to the world of ancient literati in China and Korea — would they also have exchanged a story or two over a bowl of makgeolli?
An aerial shot of people walking through the Zhuyuwan Scenic Area and admiring the blooming flowers in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China, 21 February 2021. (Xinhua)

Qing dynasty ‘eccentric’ painter Zheng Banqiao: Art is commodity and beauty is physical

From a laser-etched calligraphy in a restaurant, art historian Chiang Hsun delves into the writings of Qing dynasty painter and calligrapher Zheng Xie, better known as Zheng Banqiao. Zheng was part of the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” group of painters who had wealthy businessmen patrons and developed an aesthetic grounded in the material and secular. Bright and colourful scenes of mirth were common — unlike the Song and Yuan dynasty literati before them who indulged in melancholic musings above worldly concerns. Contemporary ink artists may want to get some inspiration from Zheng's works, and boldly declare the feelings and observations of the times.
What image does a balcony conjure up in the minds of ancient Chinese literati? (iStock)

The balcony: A metaphor for eroticism in Chinese literature

A balcony can simply be a perch from which to admire the sea, or for Shakespeare fans, it is associated with a key scene from Romeo and Juliet. For ancient Chinese literati however, it conjures up scenes of forbidden trysts and has been woven into poems by illustrious poets, from Song Yu to Li Bai and many others.
Zall Bookstore’s black-and-white design is inspired by calligraphy and the architecture of Jiangnan Watertown, with a circular arch resembling a river bridge. (SPH)

Chinese bookshops in Singapore: Art salons of the 1970s and 1980s

With the arrival of a swanky new Chinese bookshop/gallery/cafe in the heart of town, Teo Han Wue recalls that such integrated spaces are hardly new in Singapore’s history. Several Chinese bookshops in the past held art exhibitions within their premises and were often the stomping ground of artists and the arterati. What were these art salons of days gone by like?
A cluster of white azaleas. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: The colour white in Chinese aesthetics and in life

If white could be a state of being, it would be yourself, says Chiang Hsun. Under light and shadow, its true shade sometimes becomes blurry, but it never loses its essence. With that confidence, white in art or in life also means negative space — the void that is at ease when it is not filled, the voice that gives itself the freedom to just be.
The scenic Qixingtan Beach. (iStock)

Taiwanese art historian: Searching for peace and strength on the island of Taiwan

Playing in the screw pine (pandan) jungles of Taiwan was a childhood pastime for Chiang Hsun. But he had to be careful; screw pines were sharp and poky, and had a dark folklore dogging its back — the ghost of Sister Lintou clinging to all its swaying leaves. Will the skies clear one day, for the screw pine jungle and for this island too?