Literature

Visitors walk through a display of lanterns ahead of the mid-autumn festival at Wong Tai Sin temple in Hong Kong on 18 September 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The power of the individual during a pandemic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. When the virus was just starting to spread in Wuhan last year, he was in Shenzhen but managed to cross back to Hong Kong before the lockdowns. As he left the material life behind and got into the rhythm of staying at home, he sought solace in books, calligraphy and his beloved Kunqu opera. For all the things that are out of our hands, at least we have gained time for introspection, self-reflection and growth. That much is within our control.
This picture shows messages posted on windows by quarantined guests at a hotel in Hong Kong on 26 September 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The best antidote for surviving the pandemic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. There is hardly a stir in his Hong Kong home, but his mind whirs away as an ancient’s phrase here and a poet’s verse there gives meaning to the plight of the times. On this occasion, he muses about quack Covid remedies and a tipple salve recommended in jest. A new take on drowning one’s sorrows?
Feng Chia Night Market, Taiwan's biggest and most popular night market. (iStock)

Cultural historian: How I fled for my life in Taiwan’s Feng Chia Night Market

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai visited Taiwan’s famed Feng Chia Night Market during pre-pandemic days on hearing that it is a must-go attraction with cheap and delicious street food. He did find it teeming with food stalls and activity; the array was so dizzying in fact that he got a bit dizzy...
An ancient town in Suzhou, China. (iStock)

Cultural historian: Could we have eaten this elusive perch of Lake Tai?

Gathering with contemporaries in Nan Shi Pi Ji, a Chinese garden in Suzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is reminded of a rare perch found in the east side of Lake Tai called lugui (鲈鳜). This was the fish that Western Jin dynasty poet Zhang Han and other ancient literati craved when they were away from home. Served raw or in its modern rendition steamed, the delicacy is almost too good to eat. Did Cheng get a chance to taste it?
Renowned American historian and sinologist Yu Ying-shih. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

A tribute to Professor Yu Ying-shih: Remembering the lessons my teacher taught me

Renowned American historian and sinologist Yu Ying-shih passed away on 1 August 2021 aged 91. ThinkChina reproduces this essay which cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai wrote last year to commemorate Professor Yu's 90th birthday. As Cheng's teacher of over 40 years, one of the greatest lessons Professor Yu had taught Cheng was to be a historian with a heart and a sense of sympathy. One must learn to listen to the wind, rain, laughter and crying in human history.
The Nai Chung Pebbles Beach in Ma On Shan, which is on the eastern coast of Tolo Harbour in the New Territories of Hong Kong. (iStock)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: A half-century journey around the globe to Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha

Looking out from his balcony in Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha, flanked by the mountains and the sea, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai reflects on the unpredictability of life. Travelling from Shanghai to Taiwan in 1949 as an infant, had he made the journey one day later, he might have perished in the sinking of Chinese steamer Taiping (太平轮). Meanders in Taiwan and the US took him finally to Hong Kong, a place he never thought he’d call home. The wanderer has settled down at last.
A hearty bowl of swamp eel noodle soup.

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The ancients loved a good bowl of swamp eel noodle soup

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai enjoys a refreshing bowl of swamp eel noodle soup in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province. He reflects that this local dish continues to be made by nameless chefs in a simple shop frequented by unassuming diners. But there’s nothing simple about that broth — simmered down with generations of humble cooking, it’s nothing short of heavenly.
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks by a mural in Manhattan's Chinatown district of New York City, US, 2 June 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Chinese economics professor: The New York I saw was not the New York I read about in books

Chinese economics professor Li Jingkui is pensive as he visits New York City for the first time. Rather than the romanticised versions of the city he had read about, the New York he encounters in Flushing, Queens is gritty and a whole other reality. But he reflects that as societies and cultures continue to evolve, fighting for dominance in a state of chaos, the side they show to the world will sometimes be different but always real.
A view of Pingjiang Road in Suzhou, China. (iStock)

Diplomat, book addict, concubine and sage, all in an old alley of Suzhou

In one of his carefree walks down an alleyway in Suzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai discovers the old studio of Huang Pilie, renowned book collector of the Qing dynasty. But that’s not all. The former abodes of diplomats, concubines, academics and many more lie hidden in Xuanqiao Lane and its arteries. What stories will he find with each meander?