Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai takes us back to his trip to Shengzhou, Zhejiang, where he visited the gravesite of Jin dynasty calligrapher Wang Xizhi, the Sage of Calligraphy. In the depths of the lush forest with mountains peeking through, what does it mean to travel the distance to pay respects to an ancestor and honour their virtues?
Learning of a recent performance in the US by Suzhou musicians, SPH Chinese Media Group editor-in-chief Lee Huay Leng muses on the role that the Philadelphia Orchestra’s visit to Beijing had played in US-China relations in the 1970s. While no substitute for hard diplomacy, cultural exchanges can sow seeds of friendship among different peoples, and help the world reap something beautiful in the future.
Commentator Lew Mon-hung notes that recent public opinion in China has been advocating a closed-door policy, sharply diverting away from the national policy of reform and opening up taken in 1978. Will China change course and reverse its decades-long process?
East Asian Institute senior research fellow Lance Gore argues that two contexts made Xi’s resurrection of ideological orthodoxy almost inevitable — Leninist party rule and China’s rise on the global stage. But Xi’s return to ideology may be to China’s detriment, as it could reverse achievements of the reform and opening up era, and also set China on a collision course with Western liberal democracies.
Lance Gore reflects on what Chinese Communist Party cadres today understand by the phrase “Serve the People”, stating that people in positions of power could either serve the people slavishly or ride roughshod over them. The impetus to do right by the populace is simply not ensured. As the authorities seek to get the people more involved in “whole-process democracy”, they will need to consider how the regime’s affinity with the people may be maintained in the absence of electoral democracy.
How the China-US conflict will end very much depends on the vociferous court of public opinion of each country. At the moment, political correct views are being spewed on both sides. Such behaviour shows a common human weakness to demonise the other and threaten to keep both sides locked in a vortex of vitriol. East Asia Institute academic Lance Gore implores the people of both countries to keep their senses and adhere to their better judgement. In particular, China should be clear-eyed that the combined strength of the US and its allies exceeds any level China may attain in the foreseeable future and act accordingly.
Another internet furore has erupted, this time over a Shanghai college lecturer who was ratted out by her student and accused of being “spiritually Japanese” for questioning the death toll of the Nanjing Massacre. Are fears of a Cultural Revolution returning justified as people feel emboldened to tell on others without much thought?
After the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party of China gradually instituted a system of leadership renewal so that the party would not face a “generational break” in the party’s leadership. At the provincial level, party leaders are typically in their 50s and seen to be in the prime of their lives and ready to ascend to even higher positions at the national level. Yu Zeyuan highlights the rising stars in this latest round of provincial movements.
Professor Wang Gungwu, recipient of the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology, delivered a Tang Prize Laureate Lecture at Tang Prize 2021 on 20 November. In tracing China’s history from empire to nation, he relates in tandem his journey of becoming a historian, from being a Chinese overseas in his youth, then returning briefly to the motherland before starting a new life in a new country. “That seemed like the real meaning of my leaving China,” he says, “ requiring me to think as a huaqiao settling down as a citizen of a foreign country... But I did learn that I could leave China but China did not leave me.” Whether in his studies of the Five Dynasties period of the 10th century or Mao’s China and the struggle to find its future after throwing away its own past, he noted that wen (文)-texts supported central power and shaped the system’s collective memory, and were most useful as the shi (史) records of every dynasty. This nexus can perhaps help us understand how one Confucian past could serve to denigrate one set of leaders but provide greater legitimacy for another, and how the continuity of China’s history can be preserved in the future.