Beliefs

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?
Where are the heroes?

[Comic] A Chinese youth's meditation on life amidst the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how unpredictable life can be. As the world struggles to find its feet in politics, economics and daily life, comic artist Bai Yi turns the conversation inward: when times are tough, where do we find the strength to carry on? If it is religion, why do we have blind faith? If it is not, what sustains the human spirit?
Why must gifts be reciprocated? (iStock)

Chinese economics professor: Why we exchange gifts, from ancient China to the present

Have you ever received a gift that you did not like? Economics professor Li Jingkui notes that when there is a mismatch between the gift and its recipient, the giver and receiver suffer a "deadweight loss". But still, many of us continue to exchange gifts. After much thought and research, Li found the answer for such persistent human behaviour in a Maori myth — you give a part of yourself along with your gift, which is something more valuable than the gift itself. 
People visit the promenade on the Bund along the Huangpu River during a Labour Day holiday in Shanghai on 1 May 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

Is the US embassy in China recruiting ‘traitors’?

The US embassy in China recently released an Public Annual Statement outlining the requirements for funding through its public diplomacy grants programme. As the activities it supports aim to spread American values and culture in China, Chinese commentators have aired criticisms that this is an insidious attempt to “recruit traitors” within China. Zaobao correspondent Yu Zeyuan considers the theories behind this idea.
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?
The curator of the refreshed Wan Qing Yuan gallery showing the decal of the size of a pair of bound feet, a new feature at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, Singapore, 12 January 2021. A new interactive element shows just how small the ideal Chinese woman’s feet were at a time when foot-binding reflected a family’s virtue and class. (SPH)

Foot-binding in ancient China: When women fought against their genes to be beautiful

A mischievous saying goes that there are no ugly women, only lazy women. The care one puts into one’s beauty regime determines the beauty standards she can attain. But in the days of ancient China, such effort went to extremes: young girls were forced to have their feet bound. After tremendous pain in pursuit of mignon dainty feet, they attained short yet ironically bulbous “golden lotuses”. Are such unreasonable demands of beauty foisted on women by men, or a shackle that women put on themselves? If it seems unimaginable that foot-binding continued in China for a thousand years, just think of the pain some go through in modern cosmetic surgery.
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? 
A supporter of President-elect Joe Biden celebrate his victory in Wilmington, Delaware on 7 November 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP)

Chinese liberal intellectuals divided over Trump and the US elections

Liberal intellectuals in China are not a monolithic group. While the elites within the community once served to moderate divergent views, disagreements laid bare by the recent US elections shows that deeper schisms run deep, especially between those espousing conservative and liberal views.
"The passionate declarations and slogans..."

Final battle: Chinese youths' hard fight with gaokao

There is a term that every young student in China knows well and probably dreads: the gaokao, or university entrance exam. The intense competition and pressure is enough to strain any person to breaking point, given the high stakes — real or perceived. Comic artist Bai Yi presents the all-too-familiar struggle to meet expectations.