Tag Archives: history

Sauce: The Cultural History of McDonald’s ‘Dim Jack’

Dim Jack

Dim Jack

This article explains the cultural history of sauce, with McDonald’s Dim Jack as the starting point. 

Following the rotten meat scandal in July, McDonald’s launched several major marketing campaigns, trying to recoup the lost confidence. The first wave of marketing started with the Justice League Burger series where each style of burger is featured by a superhero. ‘Dim Jack’ represents the latest wave of this line of marketing.

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A New History of Western Philosophy: An Exhausting Read

School of Athens

This article reviews A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny

While intellectual history is a bird’s eye view of the intellectual landscape, a history of philosophy is a x-ray version of that landscape. A Gothic church has her beautiful stained glass windows, paintings and all other exquisite adornments but they merely suggest or altogether fail to tell us the underlying structure that supports the church itself. The relation between ideas and philosophy is similar. Philosophy reveals what is the underlying flows behind the intellectual ideas. It is, therefore, an x-ray version of the intellectual history.

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Masterpieces in Intellectual History: A Panoramic Picture of Western Civilisation

The Landscape of Ideas

The Landscape of Ideas

This article reviews two masterpieces of intellectual history: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (by Jacques Barzun) and The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (by Peter Watson)

Reading intellectual history is like looking out at the window when the plane takes off. The colossal buildings become smaller and smaller until they are no more than little blocks of lego. It is then you realize how those distinct and individual blocks are connected through streets and roads, so that a coherent image of cityscape begins to emerge. Intellectual history is such a bird’s eye view of the whole intellectual landscape.

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The British Empire in English Novels: Kim and Burmese Days

A family photo from northeastern India, c.1880's

A family photo from northeastern India, c.1880’s

At her zenith, the British Empire governed a quarter of the Earth’s land and brought roughly a quarter of the word’s population under her dominion. The Empire was so huge that it was hailed as the empire ‘on which the sun never sets’. Yet by 1920s, the very word ’empire’ became an object of ridicule. David Low, the satirical cartoonist, even represented the British Empire as Colonel Blimp – a middle – aged man who is pompous, aggressive, shallow and slow – witted. The unwarranted self-assurance in the late nineteenth century has descended to self – doubting and deteriorated into shattered confidence. This process has been illustrated in many English novels, among which Kim (Rudyard Kipling) and Burmese Days (George Orwell) are ones of the most representative works. 

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Hong Kong and American War of Independence: A Brief Comparison

In an evening, a group of men, disguised themselves as Native American warriors, stealthily boarded the British East India Company tea ship. They were ordered to search for all the tea on the ship, with the due care not to damage anything else. Speedily, they gathered one chest of tea after another, and a total of 342 chests was found. Not being interested to appropriate them, they threw them all overboard. The British armed ships promptly surrounded them. The deeds of these men, known as ‘Boston  Tea Party’, draw the curtain for the American War of Independence.

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Europa – The Origin of Europe Part 1

The Abduction of Europa by Rembrandt, 1632

The Abduction of Europa by Rembrandt, 1632

In one morning at Phoenicia, Europa and her maiden were gathering flowers along the shore. She was attracted by a snow – white bull in the river. With admiration and curiosity, she put a chain of flowers on his horn and then mounted on his back. The bull ran and swam into the sea. Unbeknownst to her, Zeus has long admired her beauty and has disguised himself as a bull to seduce her. When she regained consciousness, she found herself pregnant and was in a new island. She gave birth to a son called Minos who became the first Lord of Crete, a Greek island in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Life in Forbidden City: Eunuch

The second starting from the right is one of the narrators in Eunuch's Recollection

The second starting from the right is one of the narrators in Eunuch’s Recollection

In Puyi’s eyes, they were  ‘slaves’. In The Twilight of Forbidden City, Reginald Fleming Johnston, the first foreign Imperial Tutor, portrayed them as greedy creatures who contrived to suck the remaining wealth of the Qing monarchy. The new Chinese Republicans viewed them as grotesque relics of the feudal past.

Xin Xiuming, the late Qing eunuch, was right in saying ‘It seems the most suffering and least appreciated group of people is eunuchs’

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The Story of Nutcracker

My collection of nutcrackers
During Christmas, Santas Claus, Christmas trees, bells and the three wise men begin to appear on the streets and we all know where they originate from. How about nutcrackers? Where do they come from? That’s the question.
The historical origin of nutcracker is quite murky. Before the present – day soldiers and kings,  nutcrackers has existed in many forms and many have indeed been beautifully crafted into wooden sculpture. It is said that one times in a German village, a group of soliders have done grave injustice but unable to do anything more, the villagers crafted soldiers as nutcrackers to ridicule them.In another source, the Dictionary of Brother Grim (authors of Grim Fairy Tales), described nutcrackers as ‘a misshaped little man whose opened mouth, or lever, broke open the nut’. It is without question, however that William Fuchtner was the first to commercialise the nutcrackers production.

The Nutcracker from Hong Kong Ballet

It has eventually found its way in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by the greatest German fantasia writer, E.T.A Hoffmann. The story begins with Marie receiving a nutcracker from her grandfather, Drosselmeier. At night, she hears noise and is surprised to find her dolls fighting against the mice, with the nutcracker as the commander. She later learnt that the nutcracker was, in fact, the man who has sacrificed to save her life.

Though the story itself is rather plain, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the great Russian composer who has also written scores for The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, adopted the story into a two – act ballet. I have watched the one produced by Hong Kong Ballet with Liu Yu – yao playing Sugar Plum Fairy and Huang Zhen as Nutcracker Prince.

Though never an artist nor a musician, I still find every act in ballet dance always full of grace. In one move, Liu spins spectacularly with only her toes on the ground. The movie Black Swan made me to pay even more respect for all the hard work that ballet dancers have put into the performance.

The music, though composed at the end of 19th century, is never out of date. I especially like Dance Of The Reed Pipes where the lively tone is accompanied by elegant dance of a group of delicate ballet dancers.

Nutcrackers remain to be our favorite decoration in Christmas. It is also my favorite collection of figures and the above picture has shown part of my collection. What it symbolizes, however, is not only the rich European culture but also the fun and joy that Christmas brings to everyone.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


As a little digression, Hoffmann has written better story in The Sander which is adopted as Coppélia ballet by Arthur Saint-Léon and Léo Delibes. The father of the little Nathanael told him that children who don’t sleep at night will receive a visit by the legendary Sandman who steal their eyes to feed his own sons.  Nathanael came to associate his father’s nightly visitor, Coppelius, as the Sandman. In one night, his  father died because of an explosion in an alchemist experiment with Coppelius, who then vanished without a trace.

After years, he found another man called Coppola and recalled his childhood fear of the Sandman when this Coppola offers to sell  ‘pretty eyes! pretty eyes!’ which turns out to be telescope. Nathanael bought one to look at a young woman Olimpia opposite his house who was beautiful but rather emotionless and mechanical.

The mysterious beauty in Olimpia’s eyes made Nathanael so totally obsessed that he eventually proposed to her. To his shock, he sees Coppola fighting with Spalanzani, the guardian of Olimpia. Coppola fled, carrying Olimpia under his arms. Spalanzani revealed to Nathanael that Olimpia was, in fact, a machine created by Spalanzani to fool other people with his impressive creation. Nathanael collapsed.

It was revealed Coppola was Coppelius. In his madness, Nathanael saw Coppelius on the street, shouted ‘pretty eyes! pretty eyes!’ and jumped down.

The summary here is grossly simplified and I strongly recommend everyone (especially lovers of Edgar Allan Poe) to read Hoffmann’s words. This story show his ability to explore human psychology so ingeniously that Freud  has devoted a whole essay, The Uncanny, to analyze the theme of ‘eye’ as man’s fear of castration.

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