• Shanghai Mansion offers residents shelter, freedom, inspiration
  • Shanghai, China, May 9 (efe-epa).- If newcomers to Shanghai saw nothing but the city's Mansion, they could be forgiven for thinking they were in Berlin or Amsterdam rather than China.

    Located in a quiet residential neighborhood far from the megacity's center, the Mansion serves as a free hostel during weekdays, and a nightclub on weekends.

    Photos released by epa on Wednesday show how it has become a home for both Chinese and foreigners, completely transforming some of their lives.

    Edison from China moved to the Mansion a few years ago.

    Before he arrived, he was a "very traditional Chinese man", and even narrow-minded, he told epa.

    After living in the Mansion periodically for years, he gradually discovered his life's purpose, and met the woman he would eventually marry.

    Now he is a manager and DJ at the Mansion, and has married Juliette, who is from France.

    "I discovered the freedom here (that) we never had in China" says Edison. "The majority of Chinese people care about what other people think about you, but I got out of this mind-cage and started (to) be myself."

    The Mansion draws new residents with its alternative living concept, international character and free accommodation, as renting a room or staying in a hotel in Shanghai tends to be prohibitively expensive.

    Around 300 people have lived in this "island of freedom" since owner Rainbow Gao opened its doors in 2012.

    For years she owned and ran modeling agencies, but as the Chinese economy expanded, Rainbow grew tired of that business, which she says has no rules or respect for people, and is concerned only with profits.

    "Here in the Mansion, there are certain rules and also there are no rules," Rainbow said.

    Her vision of the Mansion is based around the idea of connecting people through music, and letting them do what they want to do, always in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect.

    New residents must sign a contract for at least three months and pay a deposit of 1,000 yuan ($157), which gives them a bed in a shared room, or in one of the private rooms, and includes utilities, internet service and one meal per day.

    "In this case a person can save from 3,000-6,000 RMB per month," Rainbow said.

    Residents are expected to follow certain rules and do odd jobs around the Mansion, such as helping out with cleaning or tending bar during parties on weekends.

    If residents want to show off their DJ skills they are welcome to play during parties, or they can choose to follow the example of French student Thom, who bought equipment for virtual reality video games and invites guests to play them.

    The Mansion is well-known throughout the city for its all-night techno parties, held over two dance floors.

    Although the establishment's finances are not sufficient to bring in internationally-acclaimed DJs, there is no shortage of people willing to go behind the turntables and provide the beats for dancing revelers.

    Each party usually attracts 100-200 foreign and Chinese guests, with the most enthusiastic managing to stay on the dancefloor until morning.

    Most people in the Mansion's mixed foreign and Chinese community are in their early 20s and live here as they study, work or look for new jobs.

    "It was my fate to find this place," says Passive, a female Chinese resident, who learned about the Mansion through her friends.

    At the end of 2017, she decided to move from Beijing to Shanghai and settle down in the Mansion.

    She had previously worked as a hair stylist twisting customers' hair into dreadlocks, but now is figuring out what other path she will take in life.

    "I want to feel busy," she said one morning as she ate breakfast.

    Passive is also trying to improve her English skills by speaking with the Mansion's foreign residents and wants to try DJing.

    This place is not for everyone, warns Max, a foreign student who first came to the Mansion for a New Year's party in 2016, and who has since lived here intermittently.

    The freedom afforded at the Mansion means people must be responsible for their own behaviour, he said, and must be able to contribute to the harmonious if slightly anarchic way of life.

    Regardless of the myriad reasons why people choose to stay at the Mansion, ultimately residents see it as an opportunity, a springboard for something significant in their lives, and hope that their experiences there will help them fulfill their dreams despite the constraints of wider Chinese society.