Philosophy

People climb the Great Wall, illuminated to mark the first day of Mid-Autumn Festival and the Chinese National Day, in Beijing, China, 1 October 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Wang Gungwu: The high road to pluralist sinology

Professor Wang Gungwu, eminent historian and university professor of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore, was awarded the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology earlier this year. At the 2020 Tang Prize Masters’ Forums — Sinology held last month, Professor Wang traced the evolution of sinology in the West and East, observing that today, a “pluralist sinology” is emerging alongside a rising China. This allows for the term “sinologist” to be applied to a much larger group of scholars, and for the bringing together of various knowledge traditions and academic disciplines in the study of China. While there is much to be cheered by this, Professor Wang also urged his fellow scholars to be ready to “douse the fires that others had fanned”, as knowledge gathered by pluralist sinology could be used as a weapon amid intense rivalry between the US and China. This is the transcript of his speech. 
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.
The tall and unassuming tree in the wilderness. (Facebook/蔣勳)

A tree can be like Buddha

Art historian Chiang Hsun stays awhile with a comforting big tree in the wilderness. He admires its steadfastness, its sturdiness, its generosity. He takes heart as his unassuming friend shows us that we all have it in us, whatever our beliefs, to be the bigger person, to give shade, to give rest to those around us.
The clean and pure Chinese snowball flower. (Facebook/蔣勳)

As pure as the driven snow, in a virtual and surreal world

Art historian Chiang Hsun remembers a lone Chinese snowball flower from his many overseas trips. Its pristine beauty was its allure. In this world where fakes abound, this image, lodged deep in his memory, is proof that authenticity exists.
A Union Jack and a Chinese flag on a pole with security cameras in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen gate in Beijing, 31 January 2018. (Jason Lee/REUTERS)

A century later, China has closed its doors to Western humanism

British philosopher Bertrand Russell was favourably impressed when he visited China a century ago. More than just advancing business and trade, he saw an opportunity to engage with and positively influence Chinese thinkers of the day. Hong Kong commentator Chip Tsao looks at the evolution of UK-China relations and the reasons why hopes that China would develop along a certain trajectory may have all been dashed.
Blue tiger butterflies. (Facebook/蔣勳)

What is the colour of 青春 (qingchun), or youth?

In Chinese terminology, the colour which looks a lot like cyan is called qing (青). Yet it is used in many contexts and may even refer to black. What do we mean when we say qing and what do we understand by it? The permutations are vast, if we are open to them. In a similar vein, fixated ideas or assumptions can be the very barrier that obstructs one from seeing that which is truly beautiful. Free your mind, let loose a little, art historian Chiang Hsun says, to experience life in its full splendour.
What did Confucius say about the colour purple? (iStock)

Did Confucius abhor the colour purple?

Art historian Chiang Hsun sifts through countless shades of purple. Like the vicissitudes of life, they are at once strong yet fragile, beautiful yet complex, and transient yet everlasting.
Barringtonia racemosa flowers. (Facebook/蔣勳)

What I Ching and the mangrove tree flowers tell us about life

Chiang Hsun contemplates the transience of life as he observes the fleeting lifespan of mangrove tree flowers found along the riverbanks of Southeast Asia, southern China and elsewhere. Every flower has its own place and purpose, but like life, its brilliance is extinguished all too fast. How can one discern the meaning of life then? Perhaps the three-thousand-year-old book of I Ching offers us some clues.
Chiang's potted gloxinia is in full bloom. (蔣勳/Facebook)

A return to the physical body and the exuberance of the Tang dynasty

Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty presented her personal piece of clothing to Buddha as an offering. Taiwan art historian Chiang Hsun says this is a sign of that era's exuberance and confidence. Immersed in reverie, he admires his pot of gloxinias, which are as vibrant as the Empress's fiery red skirt.​