As far as a passion for tea goes, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai meets his match in a tea shop owner in Sham Tseng. The tea connoisseur is an alchemist almost as he varies the ingredients and brewing methods to concoct the most memorable teas.
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.
Just as women in China today, especially rural women, have to contend with male favouritism and diminished rights, women in the Tang dynasty were also restricted by rules and social practices, even if the era in which female emperor Wu Zetian ruled was thought to be the golden era of women’s rights.
Throughout Chinese history, imperial families were some of the fiercest battlegrounds. Emperors stopped at nothing to hold on to power. At the instigation of wily courtiers, they might even have executed their kin without batting an eyelid. Li Jingkui says economically speaking, this has to do with the logic of contract theory — there was no neutral arbiter in leadership transitions. Without a third party to oversee the proceedings, family members were often subjected to the tyranny of the “lion king“. But under those circumstances, could anyone else other than the emperor have held court?
A balcony can simply be a perch from which to admire the sea, or for Shakespeare fans, it is associated with a key scene from Romeo and Juliet. For ancient Chinese literati however, it conjures up scenes of forbidden trysts and has been woven into poems by illustrious poets, from Song Yu to Li Bai and many others.
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.
In this life, are we journeying together or just passing ships in the night? Chiang Hsun ponders the degrees of separation between people who share the same earth. What keeps us walking in parallel, never breaking down customary barriers?
Northern Chinese mutton soup is rich, hearty and bold-flavoured, standing in sharp contrast to the delicate cuisine of the south. The dish is an emblem of the gruff and big-hearted heroism of civil wars past and the grandeur of the Han and Tang dynasties. Indeed, traces of history are left behind in every drop of a good bowl of mutton soup.
A television series about Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, has Cheng Pei-kai reflecting about the semantics (read: politics) involved in the title bestowed on this charismatic figure. Did she live up to her many labels, or even more powerfully yet, was she really a character that defied any labels? History refuses to make a definite call.