Meet the 50 movers, shakers and creatives making Shanghai the glorious place it is

Here's to you

Image: Tana, The Orange Blowfish and Yang Xiaozhe
All the way back in London 1968, now half a century ago, the first issue of Time Out magazine went to print selling for one shilling. But let’s not make this momentous anniversary about us. Let’s celebrate some of the many brilliant people – from industry leaders to leading weirdos – making Shanghai the fabulous city it is. Here’s a snapshot, in no particular order or ranking, of who they are and why that makes them do what they do.
Ton Mak
Photograph: courtesy Ton Mak

Ton Mak

'Grotesque stuff was and still is my appetite. When I was younger I drew pretty repulsive stuff but over time I’ve calmed down,’ says Ton Mak. The Hong Kong-born visual artist behind Flabjacks started drawing as a kid, and since her first gig pursuing illustration professionally (live-drawing her gang of pudgy cartoon characters on a Lamborghini for an Angelababy music video), she’s teamed up with major international brands like W Hotels and Nike. With international art exhibits and a recent book launch, the bulk of her work remains purely creative.

Elijah Holland
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Elijah Holland

Not even a year into his time in Shanghai, is it okay to say that Elijah Holland is shaping the city? Well, we’re doing it. Formerly the head forager of noma Australia, the 26-year-old chef has already made his mark on Shanghai with paradisiacal rooftop concept Botanik where he grows over 150 herbs to use in the kitchen alongside foraged ingredients.

Ma Shiyu
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Ma Shiyu

Goodbye, fruit platters. Ma Shiyu (aka Qiqi) is upending your idea of what Chinese dessert can be. The former in-house pastry chef, and now consultant, for vegetarian Chinese fine dining restaurant WUJIE makes gorgeous, otherworldly creations using flavours like black goji berry and lotus root alongside sweet fermented rice and osmanthus flower. ‘Right now, I’m focused on finding ways to infuse Chinese tradition and history into desserts,’ Ma says. ‘China doesn’t really have any desserts that are recognised on a global scale, and I’d like to achieve that one day.’  

Voision Xi
Photograph: Lin Hao

Voision Xi

Voision Xi was that kid in high school sharing ten songs she downloaded off Napster with a 10 megabyte USB drive. Now, she's worked the past seven years at JZ Group. It all started when she attended JZ Fest for the first time – from that moment on she knew she wanted to be a part of it. She has worked her way up from writing promos, to managing artists, doing label work for local musicians, singing live and recording her own EP.

Chris Zhu
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Chris Zhu

‘I used to want to run a fine dining restaurant. I think most chefs’ dream is to get Michelin stars and named by the 50 Best,’ Chris Zhu reflects. ‘But I just want people to enjoy the food, have a good time and talk to their friends.’ It’s an easy-going attitude from the young Shanghainese chef that both belies his intense culinary curiosity but also permeates Bird, the relaxed-yet-polished button of a restaurant where he’s turning out an inventive, quite delightful mash-up of Shanghainese, Japanese and Western fusion.

Zovi Weng
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Zovi Weng

Effortlessly cool illustrator Zovi Weng is one of the founders of comic-enthusiast collective Shaving in the Dark. After landing a job as a full-time cartoonist, Weng needed an outlet for her own ideas outside of work: ‘I needed a place where I can draw all my boobs and dicks.’ A group of editors and illustrators, Shaving in the Dark organises community-focused events such as Drink and Draw, runs workshops in local schools and releases a tri-monthly zine that ‘doesn’t take itself seriously at all.’

33EMYBW
Photograph: Mathilde Agius, courtesy 33EMYBW

33EMYBW

Beyond all of Shanghai’s ‘trendiness’, there are a handful of people turning the city’s and their own diverse influences into something fresh and excitingly different. 33EMYBW, or just 33 (San San), is one of those people. From her avant-garde fashion (she is ZUCZUG’s creative director), to her eye-popping collage art, to her eclectic sound (playing bass for eminent local band Duck Fight Goose and solo electronic projects), she manifests this megacity’s mega-culture.

Andy Curtain
Photograph: courtesy Kung Fu Komedy

Andy Curtain

You may simply recognise him as the guy from Mamahuhu with the white moustache, but Andy Curtain is probably the most influential name in Shanghai comedy, being founder of Kung Fu Komedy (Mainland China’s first and only dedicated fulltime comedy club), Head of Comedy for Live Nation Asia and founder of the China International Comedy Festival. He’s performed across Asia, Australia and the US and last year ran China’s biggest ever stand-up show when he brought Russell Howard to Shanghai’s Yihai Theatre.

Bina Yu and Kim Melvin
Photographs: courtesy Together

Bina Yu and Kim Melvin

‘The one condition was do whatever I want to do as a chef,’ says Bina Yu as she explains joining the team at Together. ‘It was quite a rare opportunity.’ Asked to create her own ‘culinary world’, Yu has gone even further to build her own complete, perfect universe of imaginative French-Asian cuisine on Yuyuan Lu alongside pastry chef Kim Melvin whose stellar programme of home-style desserts adds a warmth to the venture.

Grace Chen
Photograph: courtesy Grace Chen

Grace Chen

Fashion designer Grace Chen studied and worked for more than 15 years in New York and LA, but the long game was always to come and launch her own collection in Shanghai. ‘When we think about China in terms of fashion, it can feel quite vague, because mostly people think about the “Old China”,’ Chen says. A luxury brand truly made for 2018, Chen dresses actors, politicians and CEOs, but her atelier (a gorgeous refurbed 1920s villa near Jiaotong University) is a melting pot for the fashion and art crowds to hold panels and exhibitions, and share ideas on what the future of design here holds.  

Juli Min
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Juli Min

After moving from New York to Shanghai two years ago, Juli Min founded The Shanghai Literary Review, a bi-annual magazine that publishes stories, poems, translations and essays in the orbit of Asia and world literature. With four issues out already and the fifth on its way, Min exudes a deep passion for her team’s work and the pride she takes in it is both admirable and endearing. ‘We really wanted to have a physical product that could manifest the quality of our content. There’s so much content online, it’s really hard to distinguish what’s worth reading these days.’

Zhang Ding
Photograph: Ka Xiaoxi

Zhang Ding

Zhang Ding has made his name through solo art projects, but also he’s made a community of artists through the collaborative, interdisciplinary ‘art label’ Con Trol Club. Each project on the label, coming out at about one a year, involves live music acts and visual art in atypical spaces, with each aspect amplifying the other. The work, as with his solo projects, often explores technology and how people and the environment react to it – ‘controllability and anti-controllability’ in his words.

Alessio Avezzano
Photograph: courtesy Alessio Avezzano

Alessio Avezzano

Very-good-at-what- he-does videographer Alessio Avezzano is one of the masterminds behind hit Shanghai-based video series Mamahuhu. He left Yangzhou for Shanghai six years ago and starting working for a hotel tourism company before going freelance. Originally from Scotland, Avezzano has also made content for Donnie Does, music videos for local bands and artists such as Dirty Fingers, Round Eye, and Conrank and DJ Shadow, and earlier this year his short film Zei Wei screened at the Playhouse West LA Film Festival.

Nikki Li
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Nikki Li

STD – as in the music promoter and creative agency Sonically Transmitted Disease – started when Nikki Li, Reggie Ba-Pe III and Albert Yu were decided to start throwing live music parties they would want to go to themselves. They went with the name ‘STD’ for fun, not taking themselves too seriously. In 2013, they opened a stage and club venue, naming it after a location in the Batman comics – Arkham. More than ten years on, Li is still doing it for fun and only putting on events that she wants to go to herself.

Theo Watt and Dan Bignold
Photograph: courtesy DRiNK Magazine

Theo Watt and Dan Bignold

It isn’t an accident that Shanghai’s a cocktail city. ‘We’re trying to do as much shit as possible that makes Chinese bartenders go: I’m going to stay being a bartender. I’m not going to go off and sell magazines in front of Xujiahui station,’ says DRiNK Magazine and Thirsty Works Productions co-founder Theo Watt. In the last decade, through slickly produced media and glitzy cocktail competitions like the Chivas Masters Global, Watt and his co-founder Dan Bignold have been integral in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: making bartending look cool AF, so that it can be cool AF.

Alex Mok and Briar Hickling
Photograph: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Alex Mok and Briar Hickling

This pair of young, upstart architects met on a project at Neri&Hu three years ago. ‘We were working together and found that we had a really good synergy in approach,’ says Alex Mok of her partnership with Briar Hickling. Out of that came boutique design firm Linehouse, where they’ve been shaping the feel of today’s Shanghai with venues like Little Catch, Bird and Bitter and the stunning WeWork on Weihai Lu.

Michelle Garnaut
Photograph: courtesy M on the Bund

Michelle Garnaut

Restaurateur, entrepreneur, community leader, mentor – fling a label at Michelle Garnaut and somehow it sticks. The unstoppable Aussie (awarded for Order of Australia earlier this year for her service towards Australia-China relations) has been making her mark all over the city since she first opened M on the Bund in ’99. A big believer that ‘as businesses we have to look at how we can give back too,’ she and the M Restaurant Group are the force majeure behind a whole host of local community events like Shanghai International Literary Festival, The M Literary Residency, Mentor Walks and, really, so much more.

Jacky Lok Hang Chan, Jeffrey Yu, Jing Shi and Yelin Qiu
Photograph: Denis Sdobnov

Jacky Lok Hang Chan, Jeffrey Yu, Jing Shi and Yelin Qiu

Injecting some much-needed life into Shanghai’s LGBTQ+ nightlife scene since the end of 2016, Jacky Lok Hang Chan, Jeffrey Yu, Jing Shi and Yelin Qiu – the minds behind regular, themed queer blowout Snap! – might be party boys, but their baby is much more than just a party. ‘It’s a platform for people to be whoever they want,’ explains Shi, a carefree space for Shanghai’s queer community and its allies to go all-out together ‘without fear of repercussions,’ adds Yelin. And, as Chan puts it, in a transient city like Shanghai, what could be more important than a space to meet new friends? Hear, hear.

Lao Lu
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Lao Lu

Lao Lu describes himself as a 'simple Shanghainese'. He's being humble. From playing in a band in the basement of a house without a place to perform, to co-founding Yuyintang Livehouse with Zhang Haisheng back in 2004, Lao Lu is one of the biggest names in Shanghai’s music industry. Yuyintang is among the city’s best underground music venues supporting independent music and giving local artists a stage to perform. ‘Through Yuyintang, I hope we can make an influence and shape the generations of musicians to come,’ he says.

Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu
Photograph: courtesy Neri&Hu

Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu

If anyone has set expectations of what contemporary Shanghai lifestyle spaces are over the last decade, it’s Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu. The couple and their interdisciplinary firm Neri&Hu Design and Research Office defy categorisation, working on everything from architecture to furniture, interiors to installations. At a clip that seems to be accelerating exponentially, Neri&Hu’s jaw-dropping designs are sprouting up everywhere from Three on the Bund to the new Sukhothai Shanghai and the even newer Shanghai EDITION.

Chen Xiangqi
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Chen Xiangqi

Chen Xiangqi is the founder of non-profit LGBTQ organisation Shanghai Nvai. It started in 2005 as a group of dedicated netizens with a unified goal – to give voice to the LGBTQ community and advocate for social change in China. As one of China’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy groups, Nvai has hosted countless events and has set up a hotline for people across the country. Now, Nvai is making a documentary that encompasses 15 years of LGBTQ advocacy in Shanghai. 

Rainbow Gao
Photograph: Letmen, courtesy Rainbow Gao

Rainbow Gao

There’s no other place like The Mansion in Shanghai, and that’s probably because there’s nobody else like Rainbow Gao in Shanghai. The Mansion, a non-profit artist residence/hostel/after-hours club/sandy pool party spot/house of fun, was opened in 2012 by Gao, who has been a biophysicist, a model, an owner of her own model agency, a DJ, a music festival organiser and environmentalist. Now, she’s tying it all together with Crazy Lotus, a creative agency that’s using music festivals to fund environmental restoration in China. For Gao, it’s all ultimately about making a better world with what she does best.

Coreene Horenko
Photograph: Coreene Horenko

Coreene Horenko

Lifeline Shanghai started in 2004 as a helpline service and has over the years evolved into a valuable English-language mental health resource. Executive Director Coreene Horenko, who began volunteering in 1991, insists that no one person is the nerve centre of Lifeline. Horenko is also a part of Reach Shanghai, a group of Lifeline affiliated mental health professionals and volunteers who are charting gaps in the city’s mental health services and finding ways to fill them. It’s all undeniably important work that will benefit generations of city inhabitants to come.

Joy Lin
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Joy Lin

Joy Lin started We & Equality in 2016 with research, simply asking people about their gender issue encounters in China. She has found that many people lacked a decent understanding of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. We & Equality now serves as a platform to educate and support people affected by these issues. Through her work, Lin has witnessed people’s understanding of gender roles and feminism grow. The scale of Lin’s project might be small, but society changes in small steps, and regardless of size the conversations she has started have already gotten government attention. 

Forrest Song
Photograph: courtesy Forrest Song

Forrest Song

On a mission to change the way we think about what we eat and why – for both health and environmental reasons – Shanghai-native Forrest Song is the founder of China’s first vegetarian NGO VeggieDorm. Starting out as an online community of keen veggies in 2012, today VeggieDorm is behind local awareness-raising events Vegan Fiesta, Plantopia and EarthFest. ‘Many issues and health problems can be solved by changing the source of the food we consume,’ says Song, and that’s exactly what he’s set out to do.

David Luce
Photograph: Panvelvet, courtesy David Luce

David Luce

When he first arrived in Shanghai, David Luce organised parties with local DJs to promote his fashion brand at the time – ‘…but then I just got deeper and deeper into throwing parties.’ Combine that with his passion for music, and you have SHFT – one of the city’s biggest names in music and culture that’s not just about parties anymore. Think recording label, music fests, a barbershop and more on the horizon.

Corinne Hua
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Corinne Hua

After quitting her job at PwC in 2005, Corinne Hua founded Stepping Stones with the goal to provide free English classes to underserved migrant children in Shanghai and impoverished rural communities across China. Hua considers herself privileged to have been able to start Stepping Stones and a career with more purpose and meaning than only financial gain. Alongside making a difference in the lives of the less privileged, Hua believes Stepping Stones provides volunteers a means to give back and do something fulfilling and meaningful for themselves. 

Enrico Polato
Photograph: Dubravka Vidović, courtesy Capsule Gallery

Enrico Polato

Enrico Polato has been working in China’s arts industry since 2004, when he first landed in Beijing. In October 2016, he opened Capsule Gallery, which has already made a name for itself by forgoing the city’s usual art trends (like being based in art districts) and carving out its own community of emerging artists and art that emerges from trans-regional, nomadic perspectives.

Yu Ji
Photograph: courtesy Qin Yi Feng

Yu Ji

Yu Ji is co-founder and director of AM Art Space, which opened in 2008. Ten years later, it is still one of Shanghai’s only non-profit, experimental art spaces. All the space’s projects and exhibitions, Yu Ji says, do not aim for sales and profits. Instead, it’s all about the process. It’s about encountering the self and society in the act of creating art. 

Ting
Photograph: Alejandro Scott

Ting

Ting has been organising work in Shanghai’s LGBTQ community since she graduated from university 4 years ago. Throughout it all, she incorporated her passion for film by organising the ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival and helping organise CINEMQ, a monthly short film screening event. Last year, she founded and organised the city’s first Shanghai Queer Film Festival (SHQFF), an event that embodies Ting’s mission to provide a platform for queer films while also stoking a discussion on queer issues in society and film in China.

Grace Ng
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Grace Ng

Artist and entrepreneur Grace Ng is co-founder of Lean Startup Machine (LSM) and Javelin, a startup methodology and its service platform, which raise startup success rate with tools that test early-stage viability. LSM and Javelin have made waves in startup scenes all over the world, and especially in Shanghai, perhaps Asia’s most robust city for startups. These tools make entrepreneurship not only more accessible and viable, but also more impactful to the world overall, as she believes entrepreneurship is a key tool for alleviating economic inequality.

Sarah Ali
Photograph: Yang Xiaozhe

Sarah Ali

Beyond the Bund (BtB) is a social enterprise that gets young and old Chinese people to engage with history and social issues through arts programming. Sarah Ali, founder and director of BtB, says her time living in Cairo, Egypt during the Arab Spring, seeing so many people participating in a social movement, inspired her take the path she’s on today. Ali launched BtB with a series of elderly Chinese storytelling events, but her programming has grown to incorporate dancers, like those from Sleep No More, and other artistic mediums. 

Li Zixin
Photograph: Michelle Li

Li Zixin

Creative writing in China is traditionally defined by stoic conventions and a lofty, ‘ivory tower’ character. Former journalist Li Zixin is changing that with China30s, a digital storytelling platform and writing institute for people of all ages. ‘Writers live twice,’ quotes Li – as in writing, as a reflective practice, keeps you tuned in and sensitive to your surroundings and your life. Everyone experiences life in their own way, and Li wants people in China to be able to express that.

Amber Aldred
Photograph: courtesy Shanghai Sunrise

Amber Aldred

Amber Aldred was at first a part-time volunteer for Shanghai Sunrise, drawn in by the non-profit’s all-volunteer staff and method of putting 100 percent of scholarship donations directly towards funding individual students’ high school and university tuition. Now, Aldred volunteers full-time as Executive Director for Shanghai Sunrise, which, since its founding in 1996, has helped over 2,500 students with over 30 million RMB in donations from more than 1,000 sponsors.

Alejandra Vasquez
Photograph: courtesy Alejandra Vasquez

Alejandra Vasquez

‘There are many groups that need help, it’s up to you to pick up the initiative that is closest to your heart and to do your best to help,’ says Chilean-native Alejandra Vasquez, who’s done just that. An incredible force in Shanghai’s animal rescue community, dedicating all her spare time to Paw Pals Animal Rescue, Vasquez is pushing the animal welfare agenda amongst Shanghai’s expat community and beyond.

Lilian Shen
Photograph: Betty Vision

Lilian Shen

‘The trans community often faces different challenges compared to the LGB community [from] finding doctors who understand hormones [to] changing the gender on a diploma [to] domestic violence from parents,’ explains queer activist Lilian Shen. Behind Shanghai (and China’s) first-ever TransPRIDE in collaboration with ShanghaiPRIDE this year, Shen is out to put trans issues at the forefront of the agenda, and while this is only the beginning, for her ‘it show[s] the community that there is hope.’

Dr Michelle Lu-Ferguson
Photograph: Barefoot Portraits, courtesy Dr Michelle Lu-Ferguson

Dr Michelle Lu-Ferguson

Getting great healthcare isn't an easy thing anywhere in the world for a woman, but Shanghai-born-American OBGYN Dr Michelle Lu-Ferguson has been fighting the good fight in Shanghai for the past 13 years (in total she’s been at it for over two decades). Taking the fight one step further, in early 2015 she founded her own Shanghai-based women-only health haven, Ferguson Women’s Health – staffed largely by women for women. 

Terry Zhu
Photograph: DJ Forget, courtesy Terry Zhu

Terry Zhu

Fifty percent of homegrown streetwear label DOE, Terry Zhu wants to build the first truly global streetwear brand. The idea, born out of a conversation in a Shanghai Starbucks with business partner Himm Wonn, was to leverage experience in media and merchandising to create a more meaningful shopping experience. ‘I’m the science of the company – Himm is the art… all creative and visual,’ says Zhu. ‘We’re lucky that DOE came at such a good time. Shanghai youth are more proud than ever of their own culture, looking for more unique stuff with a deeper story.’

Rachel Daydou
Photograph: courtesy Rachel Daydou

Rachel Daydou

Rachel Daydou is co-director of Shanghai’s chapter of the Startup Grind (SUG) networking event. Daydou went to her first SUG event four years ago and felt the event’s open and unpretentious spirit to be a special thing amidst Shanghai’s startup industry. She likes to tell people that though SUG people have found jobs, co-founders and girlfriends. SUG is far from the only thing the self-admittedly hyperactive Daydou does, though. She is also VP of the International Professional Women’s Society, APAC Innovation Director at Fabernovel, mentor at French Tech and HerCentury and much more.

Ashley Fernandes
Photograph: 赵伟, courtesy Ashley Fernandes

Ashley Fernandes

Ashley Fernandes has been a volunteer with Green Initiatives (GI) since 2012 and just this year has gone full time with the environmental awareness non-profit. Through his work at GI, Fernandes believes people discover a platform for making small steps that will have a large impact on improving the environment. His involvement today began at a GI documentary screening of Beijing Besieged by Waste, where the film and discussion converted him from a casual fretter to a full-on sustainability devotee.

Wang Zhiwei
Photograph: courtesy Wang Zhiwei

Wang Zhiwei

It may not be on the forefront of English-speakers’ radar in the city but for young, hip foodie-focused Chinese, WeChat media channel and marketplace Penguin Guide is a certain kind of Bible. Founded four years ago by 29-year-old Shanghai native Wang Zhiwei, the brand has grown to 1.5 million users across all its platforms, with 700,000 followers on WeChat, where it has both a WeChat shop and mini programme offering highly curated, hard-to-find speciality food products alongside bang-on editorial recommendations of where to eat in and around the city.

Diao Wei and Gong Xian
Photograph: courtesy Yang Xiaozhe

Diao Wei and Gong Xian

From cocktail den Bar No 3 to intimate Oha Eatery to their latest three-in-one concept in Columbia Circle, Guizhou transplants Diao Wei (aka Swing) and Gong Xian are building a small restaurant and bar empire. The forward-thinking designer-bartender couple have a keen eye for detail and polish, refining the idea of what modern Chinese cooking might look like and what the idea of high-end in this city can be. ‘We want to present luxury,’ Diao says, ‘but a luxury where you can be yourself. Laugh and make stupid jokes. Talk a little bit louder.’

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