Death

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?
People flock to pay their last respects to Yuan Longping at his memorial service in Changsha, Hunan, China on 24 May 2021. (CNS)

China mourns scientist Yuan Longping, the ‘father of hybrid rice’

Following the recent passing of scientist Yuan Longping, “the father of hybrid rice”, citizens in China called for the flag to be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect. Yu Zeyuan says that the authorities seem reluctant to do so for fear of setting a precedent. But for a man whose achievements speak for themselves, no pomp and pageantry is needed.
A bald winter tree along the river. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: How should I meet my mother in the afterlife — as a child, an adult or an old man?

Time passes but our memories stand still. If all we want in life is to be understood, how lucky we are if we have someone to see us through our many faces and phases. Even if we part, if we see with our hearts, muses Chiang Hsun, we’re sure to recognise each other when we meet again.
Pedestrians walk along the banks of the River Thames in view of the Battersea Power Station office, retail and residential development in the Nine Elms district in London, UK, 7 January 2021. (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg)

Life is short. Would you risk yours for a Covid-19 'challenge trial'?

As Covid-19 “challenge trials” in the UK get underway where volunteers are intentionally infected with the coronavirus, Chip Tsao ponders how many of us would put our lives on the line for the greater good? Would having a Western or Chinese mindset have a part to play in the decisions made? And would cultural differences such as the Chinese focus on self-preservation explain why China was better at getting the epidemic under control? 
People cross a street during morning rush hour in Beijing, China, 15 December 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Would Confucius have approved of the death penalty?

A Confucius saying goes: “When the wind blows, the grass bends.” Therefore fault not the common man, says Chiang Hsun, but the decision-makers at the top. But taking a step further back, who are we to cast the first stone at anyone?
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.
This aerial file photo taken on 21 June 2020 shows graves in the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil. (Michael Dantas/AFP)

How can we survive this catastrophe?

If more than a million coronavirus deaths around the world have yet to humble us, maybe the unassuming turtle dove can teach us a thing or two.
Cicada songs fill the forest in the summertime. (iStock)

Cicada songs: Deathly silence of a summer’s day

Cicadas are peculiar creatures of nature. They spend years burrowing underground before they emerge from the undergrowth, make a racket, and return to dust just a short time later. Art historian Chiang Hsun reflects on life and death as he listens to the cicada’s chant on a hot summer’s day.
A couple wearing face masks cuddles along a park at the Yangtze river in Wuhan, Hubei, on 12 April 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Death of a Peking University girl: Virginity matters in modern China

Baoli, a student at Peking University, committed suicide because of her boyfriend and died this early April. Young academic Lorna Wei examines the case and bemoans the sad situation of both men and women holding parochial attitudes in China towards a woman’s virginity. In extreme cases, the vulnerable may fall prey to grave self-harm, even death.