Literature

People tour the Autumn Moon on a Quiet Lake (平湖秋月), known as one of the “ten scenes of West Lake”, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 2 May 2022. (CNS)

Cultural historian: Fish as large as submarines in Hangzhou?

On a walk in the deserted Lingfeng Temple near Yuquan Botanical Garden in Hangzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai muses that peace and quiet is a blessing but a kiss of death for small teahouses trying to make a living. Also, memories of days gone by may be blurry over time. Either that or things have really changed, and one must face the sad reality that the good old days can never be brought back.
The late theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun, whose plays and teachings have shaped a generation of theatre makers in Singapore. (The Theatre Practice)

True gems: Singapore’s pioneers of the arts deserve more credit

Teo Han Wue laments that we are not doing enough to remember the remarkable contributions that Singapore’s pioneers of the arts have made. Singapore’s early artists and theatre practitioners were the avant-garde who went beyond the tried and tested in China or elsewhere. If we don’t remember our past achievements, how can we be inspired to produce greater things in the future?
People walk at a shopping mall complex in Beijing, China, on 16 April 2022. (Jade Gao/AFP)

Why swear words derogating women have proliferated on the Chinese internet

The use of “national swear” (国骂) in the Chinese language has been a topic of discussion for the past century, with its derogatory nature towards women long known. From seemingly harmless insults to women’s intelligence to malicious debasing of female ancestors, why is the use of such language still prevalent on the internet today?
Teo Han Wue's black-and-white print entitled Pan Shou's Calligraphy. (Photo: Teo Han Wue)

Must one read Chinese to appreciate Chinese calligraphy?

Teo Han Wue has always believed that one need not be literate in the Chinese language to appreciate calligraphy. He was heartened that many others seem to share his view, going by how well-received a photograph of Singaporean poet-calligrapher Pan Shou’s calligraphy was at his solo photography exhibition recently. Without him regaling them with tales of Pan Shou, they found their own delight appreciating this artform through an image of an image.
American poet Marianne Moore. Photograph by George Platt Lynes. (United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division)

On the dentist’s chair: American poet Marianne Moore’s scalpel

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai had an uncanny stroke of poetic inspiration or even possession, when he hazily “composed” American poet Marianne Moore’s works after a visit to the dentist. Might the gods have cast a spell on him and given him an experience of Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream?
Jonathan Spence (1936-2021), master storyteller of Chinese history. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

Jonathan Spence: A Western historian's search for modern China

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.
A wintry scene of a snow-clad landscape. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

What does Zhuangzi have to do with goldfish in a Suzhou winter pond?

Wintry scenes of snow-clad landscapes make one in the mood for poetry. One look at Suzhou’s Tiger Hill Pagoda or the Humble Administrator’s Garden blanketed in snow and ancient poets would have been lost in their reverie, producing great works. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai remembers the year 2018 when there was heavy snow in China's southern Jiangnan region.
People dining al fresco in the Soho district of central London, 20 December 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Snazzy mod-British cuisine to go with Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu

Contrary to stereotypical pronouncements of British cuisine as unappetising and boring, modern British fare is often delicious, featuring seasonal produce cooked to perfection, finds cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. On a starry night, these dishes make a good accompaniment to chats on Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu.
A couple poses during a pre-wedding photo session on the promenade on the Bund along the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, on 24 September 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

The crux of gender inequality is that men have always objectified women

Rather than addressing the symptoms of gender inequality such as restrictions on career prospects and freedom, says Cheng Pei-kai, we need to look at the deeper issue of the objectification of women. Chinese history and literature texts are replete with examples of this tendency. Mindful reading of the classics and an awareness that women are still objectified in modern life will go some way in changing mindsets. Whether in art or life, women are complex like anyone else and their characters and emotions need to be fleshed out before they can be truly seen for who they are.