Ming dynasty

Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Army, built to protect the emperor in his afterlife. (iStock)

Why were Chinese imperial families prone to fratricides and tragedies?

Throughout Chinese history, imperial families were some of the fiercest battlegrounds. Emperors stopped at nothing to hold on to power. At the instigation of wily courtiers, they might even have executed their kin without batting an eyelid. Li Jingkui says economically speaking, this has to do with the logic of contract theory — there was no neutral arbiter in leadership transitions. Without a third party to oversee the proceedings, family members were often subjected to the tyranny of the “lion king“. But under those circumstances, could anyone else other than the emperor have held court?
Songluo tea-making process: an emphasis is placed on picking the right leaves and controlling the fire when roasting and drying the leaves.

Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, will Songluo tea make a comeback?

Songluo tea had once found ardent fans in the literati of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. The emphasis on kneading the tea leaves into tiny balls after roasting is the secret to Songluo tea’s rich aroma and highly refreshing taste. Will modern audiences perhaps more familiar with Longjing or pu-erh appreciate this tea’s restrained elegance once more?
Tourists taking photos in front of a statue of Deng Xiaoping in Lianhuashan Park, Shenzhen, China. (iStock)

Was Deng Xiaoping Hakka?

The Hakka people, or “guest people”, are Han Chinese who were mostly northerners that migrated to the south of China to provinces such as Fujian, Guangdong and Sichuan. Some say that a common heritage and language, more than a specific region ties them together. Deng Xiaoping from Guang’an, Sichuan was not known to be one of the Hakka people, but arguable bits of history point otherwise, and some continue to insist on his Hakka ancestry.  
Local natives of Hong Kong participate in a flash mob march to show solidarity with the 47 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong who were charged for state subversion due to them organizing and taking part in a primary election, in Santa Monica, California on 7 March 2021. (Ringo Chiu/AFP)

Chinese culture at odds with freedom and democracy, shows fate of Ming dynasty's opposition party Donglin

Hong Kong commentator Chip Tsao looks back at the Donglin movement during the Ming dynasty, concluding that its rise and fall shows that freedom and democracy have a history of clashing with China’s cultural background and DNA.
The Thousand-Foot Precipice of Mount Hua (华山). (iStock)

The backpacker and travel writer from 400 years ago — China's Xu Xiake

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai celebrates the free-spirited explorer Xu Xiake, who roamed the depths of China in the late Ming dynasty. Xu's journeys were hardly glorious forays that forged new paths or alliances. But for the quiet reminder they give to embrace one’s passions and explore the world, Xu will be fondly remembered.
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.
This picture taken on 21 February 2020 shows a woman wearing a face mask, amid concerns of the Covid-19 coronavirus, exercising at a park in Beijing. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

Will China turn its back on the world again?

After more than 40 years of reform and opening up to the point that China has become an integral node in global supply chains, will the pandemic be the circuit breaker that cuts off the flow of connections between China and the West? Will the currents of international trade and cooperation flow again or will China ironically be more like the US in thinking “I am the world”? And once allegedly compared by Napoleon to a “sleeping lion”, will China resume its sleep shortly after awakening?
Giuseppe Castiglione, Emperor Qianlong Inspecting Troops (《乾隆皇帝大阅图》), The Palace Museum. (Internet)

Suzhou’s way to the Emperor’s heart

Refined and steeped in natural flavours, it’s no wonder that Emperor Qianlong had a soft spot for Suzhou cuisine. Cheng Pei-kai shares the menu.
The amount of effort that went into every bowl of crab butter was so unimaginable that, the idea of sampling it wouldn’t even cross a commoner’s mind. (Internet)

Crab Butter Rice

Crab Butter Rice is unlike any other crab dishes: it is a seasonal delicacy that exclusively combines the autumn crab's paste and roe without using any of its meat. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai shares his experience eating it, and its peculiar and debatable origins from Suzhou brothels.