When Japan attacked China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia made contributions to China’s war efforts. Among the most prominent community leaders were Tan Kah Kee and Aw Boon Haw, who corralled donations and made separate visits to Chongqing. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao takes us back to that period and shows us the atrocities of war and the indomitable human spirit reflected in old photos.
Following a recent controversy over a history question in a national exam about whether Japan did more good than harm to China in the first half of the 20th century, Hong Kong columnist Chip Tsao asks: "Who gets to decide how history is read?"
Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 CE, China's only female emperor who ruled during the Tang dynasty) used 1000 copies of the Diamond Sutra and 1000 copies of the Lotus Sutra to pray for her mother when the latter passed away. In part four of his series of articles on calligraphy, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun looks back at history and is grateful for the tool he has in hand to deliberate, act and to act deliberately. But what is it about holding an ink brush that makes it a rebellious act?
In a wide-ranging email interview with ThinkChina editor Chow Yian Ping, sinologist Wang Gungwu shares his thoughts on how China and the world have changed because of the pandemic. He keenly observes that Chinese leaders have sought greater control over the population in recent years, and the situation will worsen as the pandemic deepens their insecurities. On the international stage, an intense clash of interests among the major powers looks set to keep nations divided. On the micro-level however, he takes heart that a “globalisation from below” is taking place; the fact that the virus knows no borders has brought people closer together, with opportunities for reset.
Chiang Hsun writes about the third-best semi-cursive script by Song dynasty poet Su Shi in this third part of his series of articles on Chinese calligraphy. He reconstructs the circumstances of the calligrapher, who had just been released from prison and was sent to Huangzhou along the Yangtze river in a rainy spring. He muses that calligraphy is as truthful an artform as it gets. Its aesthetic qualities dictate that outpouring of emotions are captured in every brushstroke; the artist’s state of mind and the milieu of the times he depicts are laid bare for all to see.
Cheng Pei-kai reflects on what a blessing it is that Chinese characters have evolved yet stayed intact through the years and writers can still use them to create works of literature that stir the heart, mind and soul. The fact that Chinese characters work auditory and visual muscles all at once have more than a little to do with it.
After more than 40 years of reform and opening up to the point that China has become an integral node in global supply chains, will the pandemic be the circuit breaker that cuts off the flow of connections between China and the West? Will the currents of international trade and cooperation flow again or will China ironically be more like the US in thinking “I am the world”? And once allegedly compared by Napoleon to a “sleeping lion”, will China resume its sleep shortly after awakening?
Father-son relationships in traditional Chinese culture tend to be distant. Perhaps that is why Chiang Hsun remembers calligraphy lessons with his father as one of the most intimate moments they have shared. He goes on to study revered calligraphic works which are part of Chinese history, and finds in them precious moments of humanity expressed through the ink brush.
Chinese academic Deng Xize is mostly pessimistic as he traces lessons from history to conclude that international cooperation is only tenable with the combination of well-functioning international institutions and concert among the major powers. In light of further tensions between China and the US arising from the pandemic, he sees little room for cooperation on a global scale, and instead, only greater signs of animosity of the sort seen during the Cold War.