Culture

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?
Art historian Chiang Hsun learns some life lessons from a stray cat at a farmhouse. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: A stray cat, a farmhouse in Taiwan and a quiet afternoon

In our periods of isolation, even desolation through the pandemic, one can become cautious about forming bonds. A stray cat Chiang Hsun befriends reminds him that humans can’t help but care about one another, even when they pretend not to care. Yet they’re also guilty of caring too much, cocooning themselves to protect what they have. Will we ever learn to let go and have a good rest, defenceless?
The Nai Chung Pebbles Beach in Ma On Shan, which is on the eastern coast of Tolo Harbour in the New Territories of Hong Kong. (iStock)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: A half-century journey around the globe to Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha

Looking out from his balcony in Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha, flanked by the mountains and the sea, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai reflects on the unpredictability of life. Travelling from Shanghai to Taiwan in 1949 as an infant, had he made the journey one day later, he might have perished in the sinking of Chinese steamer Taiping (太平轮). Meanders in Taiwan and the US took him finally to Hong Kong, a place he never thought he’d call home. The wanderer has settled down at last.
A hearty bowl of swamp eel noodle soup.

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The ancients loved a good bowl of swamp eel noodle soup

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai enjoys a refreshing bowl of swamp eel noodle soup in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province. He reflects that this local dish continues to be made by nameless chefs in a simple shop frequented by unassuming diners. But there’s nothing simple about that broth — simmered down with generations of humble cooking, it’s nothing short of heavenly.
Children play with a basketball in an alley in Beijing, China on 26 June 2021. (Jade Gao/AFP)

Cultural historian: Why do civilisations pass down their cultures?

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai remembers an email from a Hong Kong secondary student, who wanted a "substantial and authoritative" answer from him about the relationship between civilisations and their cultures. The 16-year-old had asked: What affects the passing down of cultural traditions? Should culture be passed on in its entirety? What role does commercialisation play?