History

Paramilitary police officers wearing face masks march outside the Forbidden City in Beijing on 22 October 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

Heritage, CCP traditions & liberalism: Three fundamentals of China's new social contract

Lance Gore firmly believes that the social contract between government and people is seeing a radical upheaval around the world. In China’s case, a new social contract will be shaped by the triumvirate of Chinese culture and heritage, the traditions of the CCP, and the influence of liberal ideals. Only the strengths of each should be retained, while the shortcomings be discarded.
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.
Winter warmers: A bowl of rich mutton soup. (iStock)

China's thousand-year-old mutton soup

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.
Train stations are part of the collective memory of generations of commuters who used them. (iStock)

History, collective memory and the beauty of Taiwan's old train stations

Like a song, a place can trigger a memory, an emotion. Preserving little landmarks is akin to preserving the collective memory of a city, says Chiang Hsun. Shared memories, more than any loud declaration, are the cornerstone of a people’s culture, heritage and sense of belonging.
A long-awaited date with hairy crabs. (iStock)

From New York to Suzhou: A professor's guide to eating hairy crabs

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls the very first time he tasted Yangcheng Lake’s famed hairy crabs, not in China, but in New York. Since then, he has been smitten with the Chinese mitten crab, and is in no doubt as to why this delicacy takes pride of place in China’s food heritage.
The Dalai Lama (second from right) and Panchen Lama (second from left) with Mao Zedong, accompanied by Premier Zhou Enlai (first from left) and CCP vice chairman Liu Shaoqi during the Chinese New Year period, 23 February 1955.

[Photo story] Chinese central government and the Dalai Lama: 1950–1956

From the signing of the 17-point agreement, or in full, the Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, to the inaugural meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet held at Lhasa Hall, Tibet’s first auditorium, historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao offers a glimpse of Tibetan history during the early 1950s.
The Thousand-Foot Precipice of Mount Hua (华山). (iStock)

The backpacker and travel writer from 400 years ago — China's Xu Xiake

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai celebrates the free-spirited explorer Xu Xiake, who roamed the depths of China in the late Ming dynasty. Xu's journeys were hardly glorious forays that forged new paths or alliances. But for the quiet reminder they give to embrace one’s passions and explore the world, Xu will be fondly remembered.
Military personnel stand in formation next to a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping (back) outside the Forbidden City in Beijing on 22 October 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

What has changed in China’s South China Sea policy under Xi Jinping?

Li Nan sees that China has been using more aggressive “defensive” strategies in the South China Sea (SCS) under Xi Jinping, which includes the building of several artificial islands and the consolidation of administrative control of Chinese possessions and claims in the SCS. While policy insiders in China often see these actions as defensive, those who have a stake in the SCS have cause to disagree.
Travel is one way to build critical thinking and identity, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. (iStock)

Woman traveller of the Qing dynasty Qian Shan Shili: Education is the bedrock of a nation

The little-known Qian Shan Shili had the opportunity to travel in the days of upheaval at the end of the Qing dynasty and at the dawn of a new republic. She was the first woman to record her thoughts in two travelogues and felt strongly that China’s new education system paled in comparison with that of other countries such as Japan. She concluded that education should have the aim of building critical-thinking men and women rather than just nurturing a crop of scholars with exceptional talent. After all, she notes, without citizens, how can there be talents? And without citizens, there can certainly be no society. These are wise words, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai, that remain relevant even today.