Architecture

Yao Jianhua, one of the few old Beijingers who is still living in a hutong. (Photo: Li Shanyi)

[Video] The last few guardians of Beijing's hutong culture

While hutongs are a unique historical sight in Beijing, they are quickly disappearing as people move out and relocate to government housing with modern amenities. Those who remain are generally the older generation, while the look and function of hutongs is also changing. How much longer will hutongs last?
An aerial shot of the collapsed "self-built" building in Changsha, Hunan province, China, on 29 April 2022. (CNS)

Building collapses in China call for more stringent checks on structural safety

An eight-storey building adjacent to the Changsha Medical University collapsed on 29 April, killing 54 people, mainly students. It turned out that the building was a "self-build" that had been modified by the owners rather than constructed by developers. Authorities are now clamping down on safety inspections of building structures, but is it a case of too little, too late?
This handout photo released by the Kaohsiung Fire Department on 14 October 2021 shows firefighters battling an overnight blaze that tore through the Cheng Chung Cheng Building in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, killing at least 46 people and injuring dozens of others. (Handout/Kaohsiung Fire Department/AFP)

Fire hazards plague Taiwan's ageing buildings and their residents, but is anyone fixing the problem?

On 14 October, an old building in Kaohsiung went up in flames, killing 46 people. That is not the only ageing building in Taiwan; hundreds of buildings are growing old along with the residents that live in them. Zaobao correspondent Woon Wei Jong visits a few of these older developments and speaks to the residents for a better idea of their living conditions and the fire hazards they face on a daily basis.
Boy and schoolgirl walk through a boarded-up neighbourhood in Laoximen.

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

After ten years of living in Shanghai and seeing the rapid changes to the city, Egyptian-American 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.
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.
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 spiky, 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?
The charming Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou. (iStock)

When a professor falls in love with Suzhou during the Cultural Revolution

Like the gentlemen in poems of yore who were love-struck by fair maidens, Cheng Pei-kai falls in love with Suzhou at first sight. His is a cultural love story that has stood the test of time.
Train stations are part of the collective memory of generations of commuters who used them. (iStock)

History, collective memory and the beauty of Taiwan's old train stations

Like a song, a place can trigger a memory, an emotion. Preserving little landmarks is akin to preserving the collective memory of a city, says Chiang Hsun. Shared memories, more than any loud declaration, are the cornerstone of a people’s culture, heritage and sense of belonging.