With each bite of Zhenjiang ham jelly, a traditional dish of Jiangsu province, Cheng Pei-kai remembers local folklores and heroes. There was Zhang Guolao, an immortal who dared to try meat accidentally cured with saltpeter, and also national hero Shi Kefa, who defended Yangzhou with his last breath. What would they have thought of today's tourists, nonchalantly trying a slice of ham jelly or two?
As children cram for their studies, their parents are cramming along with them, believing that they should be good role models. Is all this hyper-learning normal or good? Chinese economics professor Li Jingkui will let others be the judge, but he says that economically speaking, this is a sign that social mobility is shrinking; everyone feels compelled to grasp the last inch of rope that will airlift them to a better life.
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.
Following the recent passing of scientist Yuan Longping, “the father of hybrid rice”, citizens in China called for the flag to be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect. Yu Zeyuan says that the authorities seem reluctant to do so for fear of setting a precedent. But for a man whose achievements speak for themselves, no pomp and pageantry is needed.
Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai visits his hometown in Taiwan, going for a haircut on a whim. He and the barber are lost in their own thoughts as the shaver buzzes on. 40 years have whizzed by since they last met; their memories hang in the silence, like a time capsule frozen in time.
Former journalist Teo Han Wue chuckles as he recalls his first assignment in China covering an international Confucianism conference in Qufu, Confucius’ hometown in Shandong. Telecommunications facilities then were a far cry from the advances in 5G or AI that China enjoys now. Even sending a facsimile was a comedy of errors.
Wang Chong observes that many Chinese are afflicted with a victim mentality and a chip on their shoulder. This colours their view of US-China relations and worsens the spiral of negativity. Rather than perpetuate self-fulfilling prophecies, maybe it is time that the Chinese look at their own weaknesses squarely and tackle them. At the end of the day, it is not about who wins, but who becomes their better self.
Little interaction with Chinese people and double standards in US news reports have led to Americans having a jaundiced view of China. Immersed in stories on foreign policy, politics or human rights, they rarely have the chance to realise that the Chinese are made up of individuals and families who are living their lives the best way they can, just like the average American. Better education through the media and universities is greatly needed.
In his travels across China, Hisham Youssef trains his street photographer’s eye on some of the vanishing arts and trades that have endured for long but are now under threat of disappearing as China modernises.