Humanity

"Sometimes through the cracks, I watch people go by."

[Comic] We live in the crevices of life

Chinese comic artist Bai Yi observes that most of us, the masses, are but tiny pawns fighting to survive in this immense and turbulent world. Lives are spent living in obscurity and dullness, often voiceless and unnoticed, coming and going in the crevices of life and society. No one really wants to live such a life forever, but before the crevices are exposed under the light, can we contemplate our lives in the safety of the shadows?
A colour music sheet, 19th century, titled "A Chinese Monkey Doodle".

[Photo story] A history of Western illustrations insulting the Chinese

For over 100 years, the Chinese have been the target of stereotypes and racism from Western countries. The way they look, work and talk have all been captured in images and illustrations by Western artists, and not at all in a friendly way. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao shows us some of these images.
Commuters ride on a subway in Beijing, China, on 16 October 2021. (Noel Celis/AFP)

A Singaporean in China: Bumping into kind souls on buses and trains

On her frequent explorations of the city with her son in tow, former journalist Jessie Tan now based in Beijing is grateful for the little kindnesses shown to her by fellow commuters. She did not know what to expect when she first arrived in the city, and truth be told, there were some preconceived notions, but a year’s worth of help from strangers has her convinced that she walks the streets of a civilised city.
A barber cuts a man's hair along a road in Beijing, China, on 7 December 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

How being a good Samaritan can ‘spoil the market’

While some businessmen have good intentions in offering goods and services at lower prices, they could also be “spoiling the market” and making it harder for others to make a living. Such actions may invite backlash, whether in village scuffles, or writ large, protests and anti-dumping measures between countries. China, the world’s factory, has borne the brunt of such pushback. Industries in other countries are affected, as capital moves freely between borders but labour stays in place. Those who feel they are losing out may hold grudges and end up dealing a big blow to society.
An unrenovated toilet in Dongcheng district, Beijing, 6 December 2021. (SPH Media/Meng Dandan)

Beijing’s hutong toilet revolution: Giving toilet users some dignity

Beijing’s old alleyways or hutongs are known for their historical value and they have undergone renovations over the past few years. But one aspect that is still a work in progress is the provision of public toilets in these areas, which can be in poor condition. The latest phase of the “toilet revolution” focuses on building facilities fit for purpose and for their users to have a mindset change. A tall order? Meng Dandan finds out.
A man (left) offers incense sticks to his ancestors at a temple in Hong Kong on 21 August 2021, marking the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Bertha Wang/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [3 of 3]: The netherworld and the state machine

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. In this third article of the series, he teases out the difference in Chinese notions of happiness compared to other cultures. Rather than a moral code, bureaucracy and social mores have ruled people’s lives. Thus, the living leave practical objects in tombs for the deceased’s sustenance in the Underground, and magic spells to ward off harm against their living kin. In death, one is finally freed from the shackles of life.
A man walks through a cemetery in Diamond Hill in Hong Kong on 14 October 2021, during the Chung Yeung Festival, also known as the Double Ninth Festival, where people honour their ancestors. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [2 of 3]: The netherworld is closer to us than you might think

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. In this second article of the series, he describes how the ancients prepared the tombs of the deceased: the lavish chambers and paraphernalia thrown in suggest they wanted the dead to be comfortable in their afterlives. Or maybe it was for the living to assure themselves that unfulfilled aspirations in life could be achieved in death?
People look at a billboard showing former US President Donald Trump in Times Square in New York, US, 14 October 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Pandemic diary (Chapter 4): The president who spread a political virus

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. He dwelled in his home in Hong Kong’s Wu Kai Sha, but he was never far from the drama of global Covid-19 news, beamed in from TV and computer screens. The pomposity of one politician stood out — in the face of a life-threatening disease, how could the leader of the world’s largest economy and even the league of nations have set such a poor example and gotten away with it?
In this elevated view, a man sits on a bench along the flags of the 'In America: Remember' public art installation near the Washington Monument on 19 September 2021 in Washington, DC, US. (Al Drago/Getty Images/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: Life and death are predestined, and wealth and poverty are heaven’s arrangement

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. Early last year as the pandemic started getting widespread in the US, he mused about the irony of the situation: the ancients were led by the nose by plagues and could only lift their prayers to the gods. Today, medical technology may be more advanced but a cunning coronavirus has once again brought populations into a tailspin. But even as fate plays tricks, politicians still spend their energy mulling over battling the pandemic without bringing down Wall Street. Are humans just cogs in the economy, and even a plague won’t change that?