Shanghai's subcultures are flourishing. You can see it in the surge of home-grown phenomena like wenqing ren (China's artsy answer to the Williamsburg hipster) as well as imported identities like cosplay, punk rockers and heavy metalists. It's a colorful canvas of youths expressing themselves, and if you look hard enough, you'll even find a few darker brushstrokes. Enter Shanghai's small but strong Goth community.
They're a rare species here. Population figures aren't entirely known, but our closest estimates are based on a WeChat group of about 25 to 30 members. And yet, sightings aren't as rare as you'd think. They can be spotted regularly at the Xuhui Riverside Park near the old railroad tracks.
Here they convene in broad daylight (and you thought they were a nocturnal lot, didn't you?) for a bi-weekly picnic. "As you can see, half of our community is here," chuckles Veronica Feng as she gestures to seven other people.
Some nosh on fine cheese and homemade spring rolls. Others take long drags off their e-cigarettes. It's a small assembly, but they're committed. It has to be more than 30 degrees out, and even in this stifling heat most of them are wearing black.
Even among these eight it's a diverse group of people, equal parts foreigners and locals. Some are in Goth-adjacent lines of work. Nana Saoirse, who organizes the picnics, manages the metal bar Inferno, for instance. There are also computer programmers and health food store workers in the fold.
A variety of personalities means a variety of outward expressions, too. “It's not like being a Goth means you can only have one style. I have clothes (in many colors) of all styles and combine them together," explains Ma-Li Boonriam, who moved to China from the Netherlands five years ago.
"People always think vampire or traditional Goth styles from the 80's are the entire representation of Gothicism, but...it has evolved a lot from that," Feng adds.
This is true. Countless unique Goth subsets have emerged over the years. You have your vampires; your Victorians with their penchant for lace corsets and ruffled dresses; there are Lolitas, who dress in all black; and there are steampunks identifiable by their military-inspired outfits.
But for Saoirse this isn't just some elaborate fashion show. "It's about listening to the music and watching movies such as Dracula and Phantom of the Opera.”
Simple pleasures and common interests. Fair enough. That's enough of a reason for this bunch of people to meet up every other week. And while they may be tightly knit, "we're always open to new members," says Ma-Li, eager to point out as she takes a slow sip of red wine. "The more the merrier.”
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