Culture

Hoo Ah Kay at Nam-sang Fa-un. (Photo: Kua Bak Lim/Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

Memories of South China: The enchanting garden that Whampoa built in Singapore

It is commonly thought that Singapore’s horticultural history dates back to the beginnings of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Actually, a little earlier in the mid-19th century, Singapore pioneer Hoo Ah Kay, known as “Whampoa” after his hometown in Canton, China, had built a Chinese garden in Serangoon Road. It was resplendent with flora and fauna, and even unusual animals and birds. This is the story of Whampoa Garden.
A hillside village in Songyang, Zhejiang province, pristine in appearance, has been “discovered”, and is increasingly becoming overwhelmed by luxury boutique hospitality projects.

Towards responsible rural tourism in China: Getting local communities involved

In part 2 of his reflections on the Chinese countryside, Egyptian-American architect Hisham Youssef asserts that local communities must be involved in the nation’s drive for rural rejuvenation. These can be projects that promote local culture and craft, rather than tourism per se. Perhaps through such efforts, the soul of these communities can be preserved and these rural gems can truly live on for generations to come.
An ancient town in Suzhou, China. (iStock)

Cultural historian: Could we have eaten this elusive perch of Lake Tai?

Gathering with contemporaries in Nan Shi Pi Ji, a Chinese garden in Suzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is reminded of a rare perch found in the east side of Lake Tai called lugui (鲈鳜). This was the fish that Western Jin dynasty poet Zhang Han and other ancient literati craved when they were away from home. Served raw or in its modern rendition steamed, the delicacy is almost too good to eat. Did Cheng get a chance to taste it?
What colour is autumn's scent? (iStock)

Taiwanese art historian: What colour is the scent of autumn?

Strolling in the autumn light, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun remembers that his mother always requested for fabrics in the colour of “autumn’s scent”. If fragrance sets a mood, and that mood can be captured in a mood board, what would that scent look like? Perhaps at the very least, it’d be a rich, mellow shade of dust settling on the seasons.
The silver grey skies of Chishang.

Taiwanese art historian: 'Severing all ties’ in a pandemic

Cloistered in Chishang township in Taiwan’s Huadong Valley for the past four months, Chiang Hsun has no choice but to face himself in all its foibles. At peace with himself, he is at peace with the world. He revels in beautiful sights, as if he’s the only one let in on nature’s little secret. Just as he readies to leave, tourists trickle back into Chishang, bringing a bit of a bustle with them. May their hearts be still, says Chiang, to see the beauty that lies before them.
Drying bamboo sticks for various uses including chopsticks, near Anji (安吉), Zhejiang.

Egyptian-American architect: Is China's countryside losing its identity and rustic charm to mass tourism?

Based in Shanghai, Egyptian-American architect Hisham Youssef has travelled to many off-the-beaten-track locations across China. He shares his observations about the impact of organised mass tourism on the countryside. With transport links improving and tourists arriving in droves, will tangible heritage be eroded and undiscovered gems become a thing of the past?
(left to right) Professors Tu Wei-ming, Wu Teh Yao, and Yu Ying-shih participated in the preparatory works of a conference on Confucianism in 1988, Singapore. (SPH)

Remembering Yu Ying-shih in Singapore: An ambitious social experiment disrupted

Renowned historian and sinologist Yu Ying-shih passed away earlier this month. Chinese culture and history enthusiasts may be familiar with his life’s work on Chinese history and observations of contemporary China, but few may know that he has a connection to Singapore’s history. During the 1980s, the education ministry explored the prospect of teaching Confucian ethics in schools. In the process, they tapped the expertise of eminent scholars such as Prof Yu. Did the experiment bear fruit in the end?
Renowned American historian and sinologist Yu Ying-shih. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

A tribute to Professor Yu Ying-shih: Remembering the lessons my teacher taught me

Renowned American historian and sinologist Yu Ying-shih passed away on 1 August 2021 aged 91. ThinkChina reproduces this essay which cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai wrote last year to commemorate Professor Yu's 90th birthday. As Cheng's teacher of over 40 years, one of the greatest lessons Professor Yu had taught Cheng was to be a historian with a heart and a sense of sympathy. One must learn to listen to the wind, rain, laughter and crying in human history.
Lanterns with candles float on the waters of the Hozu River in Kyoto, Japan. The lanterns carry prayers to send off ancestors' spirits. (iStock)

Ghost Festival: When the wall between the living and the dead crumbles

Many Chinese refer to ghosts and spirits as "good brothers". Now that the Gates of Hell are open during the Ghost Festival, art historian Chiang Hsun asks how one is to get along with the deceased who have come back? Would it be like strangers crossing paths, or would one recognise the other? And should we dismiss these folk beliefs as mere superstitions?