Arts

Tea fields in Anxi. (iStock)

Exploring Dehua porcelain and Anxi tea with a Dutchman

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls his study tour in Dehua county sampling tea as he visited dragon kilns and pottery workshops. He was delighted to extend warm hospitality to a Chinese-speaking Dutchman who was there to learn about Dehua porcelain and Anxi tea.
A good understanding of the Chinese language must begin with an appreciation of the importance of its writing system. (iStock)

How the 'tree' of Chinese writing united dialects, culture and people through the millennia

From the oracle bone scripts of the past to the Modern Standard Chinese script of the present, the written Chinese language is pictorial and highly evocative. What’s more, its unchanging nature gives it the power to preserve the unity of Chinese culture. While regional dialects vary, the written script remains the same. Teo Han Wue explores the characteristics of and philosophy behind the Chinese writing system.
This photo taken on 20 March 2021 shows people viewing cherry blossoms in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China. (STR/AFP)

Taiwanese art historian: Why we no longer find beauty in contemporary art

Art colleges today may be missing the point by teaching students various forms of aesthetics without offering a true path to beauty. An affinity for beauty — to see, appreciate, and ultimately to create it — is best honed keeping close to nature, says art historian Chiang Hsun. Qing dynasty calligrapher and painter Zheng Banqiao would have approved. After all, didn't he ask, “If people really love birds, why not plant more trees?”
Ai Weiwei in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, 3 March 2021. (Pedro Nunes/Reuters)

Do artworks need to be patriotic? Hong Kong politicians fight over Ai Weiwei's 'middle finger photograph'

In itself, a subversive artwork by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei to be shown at Hong Kong’s new M+ museum may not have drawn such attention. But under the shadow of the national security law in Hong Kong and the looming chief executive election, everything is magnified a hundredfold.
An aerial shot of people walking through the Zhuyuwan Scenic Area and admiring the blooming flowers in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China, 21 February 2021. (Xinhua)

Qing dynasty ‘eccentric’ painter Zheng Banqiao: Art is commodity and beauty is physical

From a laser-etched calligraphy in a restaurant, art historian Chiang Hsun delves into the writings of Qing dynasty painter and calligrapher Zheng Xie, better known as Zheng Banqiao. Zheng was part of the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” group of painters who had wealthy businessmen patrons and developed an aesthetic grounded in the material and secular. Bright and colourful scenes of mirth were common — unlike the Song and Yuan dynasty literati before them who indulged in melancholic musings above worldly concerns. Contemporary ink artists may want to get some inspiration from Zheng's works, and boldly declare the feelings and observations of the times.
Zall Bookstore’s black-and-white design is inspired by calligraphy and the architecture of Jiangnan Watertown, with a circular arch resembling a river bridge. (SPH)

Chinese bookshops in Singapore: Art salons of the 1970s and 1980s

With the arrival of a swanky new Chinese bookshop/gallery/cafe in the heart of town, Teo Han Wue recalls that such integrated spaces are hardly new in Singapore’s history. Several Chinese bookshops in the past held art exhibitions within their premises and were often the stomping ground of artists and the arterati. What were these art salons of days gone by like?
A cluster of white azaleas. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: The colour white in Chinese aesthetics and in life

If white could be a state of being, it would be yourself, says Chiang Hsun. Under light and shadow, its true shade sometimes becomes blurry, but it never loses its essence. With that confidence, white in art or in life also means negative space — the void that is at ease when it is not filled, the voice that gives itself the freedom to just be.
A vendor arranges books at her stall at the Panjiayuan antique market in Beijing, China, on 19 November 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Are the Chinese truly collecting art?

With China’s increasing affluence, the nouveau riche are investing in art and cultural artefacts. Wu Zetian’s pleated skirt, exquisite paper from the Southern Tang dynasty, a painting by early 20th century painter Qi Baishi — authentic or not, all are fair game and acquired at the best price. What a shame, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. If only the collector’s hand is not sullied by such commerce.
The charming Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou. (iStock)

When a professor falls in love with Suzhou during the Cultural Revolution

Like the gentlemen in poems of yore who were love-struck by fair maidens, Cheng Pei-kai falls in love with Suzhou at first sight. His is a cultural love story that has stood the test of time.