Recalling a Chinese New Year feast where he was ruffled by feelings of injustice, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai returns to equanimity with the wise words a friend gifted him: stay true to the values of the Chinese heart and mind, and days of peace and simple joys can unfold all through the year.
Amid the grandeur of his friend’s deluxe kitchen, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun remembers his mother, a skilled cook. With simple tools and deft hands, she whipped up artisanal meals worthy of many a great restaurant.
Like the art of cooking, which often involves a mastery of heat control, living a good life is determined by how we can temper our souls, do what we are put on this earth to do and not take things for granted. We may not know what our life’s purpose is immediately, but if we stay the course, we can adjust the embers of our lives as we walk on.
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.
We should not underestimate the role of political psychology in international relations, says Lance Gore. Often, human nature and emotions play a large part in decision-making, and factors such as wounded pride, a need to assert one’s identity or a sense of insecurity can bring about major consequences. Moreover, when feelings are stoked and public opinion drawn on the side of the “good guys”, it is not so much the high ideals of liberalism but a realist game at work. Russia and China have not learnt finesse in playing the two-tier game of international politics; neither have they realised they are not strong enough yet to change the rules of the game.
Professor Jonathan Spence (1936-2021) was a prolific historian who deepened Western readers’ understanding of China’s history and culture through his artful mastery of narrative history grounded in rigorous research. From the inner world of Emperor Kangxi to Jesuit missionaries' voyage to China, to the plight of Chinese intellectuals and literati and the arduous mission of reform and opening up, Spence’s unique writing style brought to life the complex historical figures and events of China. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai, one of his earliest students, and translation academic Jackie Yan pay tribute to Spence and his contribution to the study of Chinese history through this preface to a collection of Spence's translated works published by the Guangxi Normal University Press.
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?
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.
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?