Literature

A still from the movie Return to Dust, with Wu Renlin (left) and Hai Qing in the lead roles. (Internet)

Can China's movies depict poverty and the ugliness of society?

The movie Return to Dust depicts the difficult circumstances of a rural couple in China. Despite the high ratings and box office takings, some detractors say that the film feeds Western stereotypes of rural Chinese. Zaobao correspondent Yu Zeyuan looks at whether the movie panders to Western tastes, and whether it invalidates China’s efforts at poverty alleviation.
Chinese textbook illustrations have come under fire.

Suggestive Chinese textbook illustrations: An infiltration by the West?

Recently, there has been an uproar in China over illustrations in school textbooks, with comments that the characters drawn are “ugly”, with some depicted in suggestive poses and wearing questionable designs on clothing. Is this merely a question of aesthetics, or does the problem go deeper? Zaobao correspondent Yu Zeyuan looks into the issue.
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.