Philosophy

The Grand Hotel is illuminated with the Chinese characters '平安' (Peace) in Taipei, Taiwan, 3 June 2021. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)

Taiwanese art historian: What flowers and swallows taught me about life amid the pandemic

As art historian Chiang Hsun recites the Diamond Sutra and prays for the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, he believes in the adage that "this too shall pass". In tough times, we must remind ourselves to be grateful for the breath of life and to be kind to one another. May humankind be safe and well in their warm homes, wherever they may be.
People attend a vigil commemorating the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen square pro-democracy protests and crackdown outside of the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles, California on 4 June 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP)

A question of human rights: Is China an aggressor and oppressor?

Chinese academic Li Yuehua takes a look at reports on China’s human rights record, and analyses whether it really deserves its negative reputation. Hasn’t China tried to improve the lives of its people, and isn’t the right to survival and development a major part of human rights? He believes that painting China as an aggressor and oppressor only fulfils the interests of a few politicians to the detriment of people-to-people relations between China and the West.
A massive banyan tree. Trees are worshipped like gods in rural areas and are not cut down easily. (iStock)

Taiwanese art historian: 'Lord of the banyan tree' and his grand wisdom

In a simpler age, rural communities wisely followed folk religions that respected the seasons, land and nature. Chiang Hsun rues today’s reality where modern life has encouraged the neglect of these cardinal rules, leading to environmental damage and other adverse effects.
This photo taken on 20 March 2021 shows people viewing cherry blossoms in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China. (STR/AFP)

Taiwanese art historian: Why we no longer find beauty in contemporary art

Art colleges today may be missing the point by teaching students various forms of aesthetics without offering a true path to beauty. An affinity for beauty — to see, appreciate, and ultimately to create it — is best honed keeping close to nature, says art historian Chiang Hsun. Qing dynasty calligrapher and painter Zheng Banqiao would have approved. After all, didn't he ask, “If people really love birds, why not plant more trees?”
The current issue regarding the learning of English in mainland China is not whether to remove English as a core subject. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

How to solve the Chinese headache of learning English

Wu Guo asserts that the current piecemeal way of learning English, focusing on exam questions and answers, will not help the Chinese get very far in mastering the English language. Will they be willing to take the longer but likely more rewarding path of appreciating the language in its entirety?
A cluster of white azaleas. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: The colour white in Chinese aesthetics and in life

If white could be a state of being, it would be yourself, says Chiang Hsun. Under light and shadow, its true shade sometimes becomes blurry, but it never loses its essence. With that confidence, white in art or in life also means negative space — the void that is at ease when it is not filled, the voice that gives itself the freedom to just be.
In this file photo from 6 January 2021, supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol, in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

America's flawed democracy: When power and cognitive abilities of the people fail to match

Academic Deng Xize notes that the 2020 US election demonstrates what he terms the Socratic Trap, referring to the gap between people’s cognitive abilities and the power they hold. How will this affect the democratic process, and what are the shortcomings of democracy?
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?