Philosophy

"Sometimes through the cracks, I watch people go by."

[Comic] We live in the crevices of life

Chinese comic artist Bai Yi observes that most of us, the masses, are but tiny pawns fighting to survive in this immense and turbulent world. Lives are spent living in obscurity and dullness, often voiceless and unnoticed, coming and going in the crevices of life and society. No one really wants to live such a life forever, but before the crevices are exposed under the light, can we contemplate our lives in the safety of the shadows?
Renowned Chinese philosopher Li Zehou. (Weibo)

Growing up (and old) with Chinese philosopher Li Zehou

Think of how the switching between languages, cultures and epistemologies can itself be an integral part of reading and writing, and extend this to a thinker’s broadest philosophical opus, in concepts, articulations and communications — that is the work of Chinese philosophy great Li Zehou (1930-2021), says former Singapore Art Museum director, Kwok Kian Chow.
Thousands of supporters of former US President Donald Trump listen to local and state politicians speak during a "Save America" rally at York Family Farms on 21 August 2021 in Cullman, Alabama, US. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Pandemic diary (Chapter 6): When democracy is despotic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. But that is just the outward appearance of calm. Inside, he seethes with indignation as he rues the politics of life and greed, the democracy that politicians tout and the world that will be changed yet oddly stay the same after Covid-19. Have we come to a stage where not even a pandemic can teach us the lessons we need to learn?
A man (left) offers incense sticks to his ancestors at a temple in Hong Kong on 21 August 2021, marking the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Bertha Wang/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [3 of 3]: The netherworld and the state machine

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. In this third article of the series, he teases out the difference in Chinese notions of happiness compared to other cultures. Rather than a moral code, bureaucracy and social mores have ruled people’s lives. Thus, the living leave practical objects in tombs for the deceased’s sustenance in the Underground, and magic spells to ward off harm against their living kin. In death, one is finally freed from the shackles of life.
Priests chant scriptures during a ceremony at a temple in Hong Kong on 21 August 2021, marking the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Bertha Wang/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [1 of 3]: The idea of the netherworld

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. First, he explores the traditional conception of the netherworld. Was it a physical place, shaped in the earthly world’s image and likeness?
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?”