Why Cathay Au Lait?

A long, long time ago, Italian merchant Marco Polo traveled to a faraway land. When he finally made it back home, he had fantastical tales to tell about a place he called “Cathay.”

At the time, most people didn't even believe what he was talking about. But it wasn't much longer before the aristocrats of Europe began seeking out China’s luscious silks, porcelain, and, of course, tea. The word Cathay came to symbolize all that was advanced, refined, and luxurious in the world. And indeed, why wouldn't they covet what the Chinese had to offer? As Voltaire noted in the 1700s:

“The fact remains that four thousand years ago, when we did not know how to read, they knew everything essentially useful of which we boast today.”

Enough said.

Here, when we refer to "China" or "Chinese," we're referring to that ancient concept that goes well beyond the nation or political entity, and it certainly doesn't include the Chinese Communist Party. As far as we're concerned, Soviet Communism seeped into China around WWII and has wreaked havoc on the nation's moral and cultural foundations ever since. Call us bourgeois or rightest or whatever you like, but let's just be clear, China does not equate to the regime known as the People's Republic of China (PRC).

For us, China is that rich tradition that was developed and refined over thousands of years, enriched by the change of multiple dynasties. In Chinese, Zhongguo literally means the "Middle Kingdom." Some still call it Shenzhou, which literally translates to "The Land of the Gods" because for some, such a culture could only have been inspired by a higher wisdom. In any case, this China is an idea that lives on, even if only in our collective imagination.

When things reach a certain level of excellence, they transcend the culture of any one region and become universal. At that level, they represent what humanity as a whole is capable of; they remind us there are still standards in this world. We find solace in that.

But we are not here to indiscriminately sing the praises of China. After all, "Cathay Au Lait" means "Cathay with milk," sort of in the same way the Brits decided to add cream and sugar to their cup of tea. Not quite the same as the tea consumed in the East but often preferred by the Western palate, and quite a lovely beverage in its own right, n'est ce pas?

We also tend to believe that when things reach a certain level of excellence, they transcend the culture of any one region and become universal. At that level, they represent what humanity as a whole is capable of; they remind us there are still standards in this world. We find solace in that.

Great architecture is great no matter where it sits. Great food is, well, great. So we at Cathay Au Lait will look for what is truly beautiful or good in that universal, Platonic sense, and we'll seek out wisdom, regardless of the hemisphere. 

We welcome you join us on this quest for the fun, fabulous, and profound all around us.

 

We plan to post a blog about once a week or so. If you would like us to drop you a line when we have something new, just click here.

FEATURED SECTIONS

Health & Lifestyle

If there’s one thing the Chinese people have always cared about, it’s health and longevity. After 5,000 years, maybe they’ve figured out a thing or two...

 

The arts

Where better to find beauty than in nature and in the arts? This section is devoted to all things beautiful and artistic, be they from the East or the West.

insights

This section is for words of wisdom and all manner of musings gleaned from anywhere and everywhere.