Culture

Two works by fine art photographers John Clang (L) and Zhou Yang. (Courtesy of John Clang and Zhou Yang)

A dialogue with John Clang and Zhou Yang: Human relations, memories and the compassionate photographer

What do creatives have in common and how differently do they interpret and make sense of the world around them? A chat with Singaporean photographer John Clang and Chinese photographer Zhou Yang gives a glimpse of that exploration. Each photographer has his own approach: Clang takes an almost anthropological perspective by drawing inspiration from those around him, be they friends or complete strangers; Zhou delves into the camera of the mind — the memory — and uses it to tell larger stories about the past and present. Lianhe Zaobao journalist Wang Yiming speaks to the photographers in the first of several fireside chats put together to commemorate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China.
The tall and unassuming tree in the wilderness. (Facebook/蔣勳)

A tree can be like Buddha

Art historian Chiang Hsun stays awhile with a comforting big tree in the wilderness. He admires its steadfastness, its sturdiness, its generosity. He takes heart as his unassuming friend shows us that we all have it in us, whatever our beliefs, to be the bigger person, to give shade, to give rest to those around us.
Would you rather have a Michelin-starred molecular gastronomy extravaganza or a traditional Hakka feast? (iStock)

Above Michelin: These professors would rather have Hakka pork belly with preserved mustard

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai did not enjoy his taste of molecular gastronomy too much on a recent visit to a high-end restaurant. The experience taught him that there is little point hankering after what everyone supposedly wants. One is better off staying true to himself and savouring something that truly tickles his taste buds.
The clean and pure Chinese snowball flower. (Facebook/蔣勳)

As pure as the driven snow, in a virtual and surreal world

Art historian Chiang Hsun remembers a lone Chinese snowball flower from his many overseas trips. Its pristine beauty was its allure. In this world where fakes abound, this image, lodged deep in his memory, is proof that authenticity exists.
The great Chinese playwright, Tang Xianzu. (Internet)

In pursuit of ideals and love: The William Shakespeare of Chinese drama, Tang Xianzu

All his life, Ming dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu only wanted to stay true to himself, to do good and to make a mark. In his life as a government official, he sat on the sidelines and saw his ambitions erode with time. But he kept intact his passion for literary writing, gifting the world he left behind with classics such as The Peony Pavilion. Amid brokenness and deceit, he saw only beautiful things that were good and pure. Whether the world he created is a reality to be attained or a mirage...the dream lives on.
Blue tiger butterflies. (Facebook/蔣勳)

What is the colour of 青春 (qingchun), or youth?

In Chinese terminology, the colour which looks a lot like cyan is called qing (青). Yet it is used in many contexts and may even refer to black. What do we mean when we say qing and what do we understand by it? The permutations are vast, if we are open to them. In a similar vein, fixated ideas or assumptions can be the very barrier that obstructs one from seeing that which is truly beautiful. Free your mind, let loose a little, art historian Chiang Hsun says, to experience life in its full splendour.
Suzhou Museum, a masterpiece of world-renowned architect I.M. Pei. (Suzhou Museum official website)

Suzhou Museum: Why I.M. Pei failed to learn the lessons of the ancient Chinese

The building and landscape architecture of Suzhou Museum has been lauded for its intricate blend of old and new. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is in awe of the late architect I.M. Pei, but sees at the same time, the need for man-made landscapes to blend into their natural environment. Otherwise, the handprints of their maker will all be too visible and the result far from the scenes of nature it was precisely trying to capture.
What did Confucius say about the colour purple? (iStock)

Did Confucius abhor the colour purple?

Art historian Chiang Hsun sifts through countless shades of purple. Like the vicissitudes of life, they are at once strong yet fragile, beautiful yet complex, and transient yet everlasting.
Proverbs encapsulate profound life experiences and reveal a culture's thoughts and way of life. (iStock)

Proverbs and sayings: Understanding a culture's biases, thoughts and way of life

Proverbs and sayings are not just traditional phrases handed down from generation to generation, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. Dissected, they reveal a culture’s biases, thoughts and way of life. Understanding a country’s proverbs is understanding the people that use them.