As expats, we are often, by definition, adaptable. We move hundreds to thousands of miles away from friends and family, and find ourselves in cities where we don't know the language, the customs or anyone besides our significant others. And even though Shanghai is a pretty easy transition in many ways, it can still be hard to find your place in a city of 26 million. Luckily, there are quite a few organizations to help us out. Here are eight community groups to find like-minded people and get involved.
By far the youngest of these organizations, Beyond the Bund (BTB) creates unique, authentic cultural experiences by providing a platform to connect the local elderly community with foreigners to China. Their positive social impact is tri-fold: eradicate the isolation of the elderly in the city, give foreigners insight into Chinese culture and empower local Chinese youth by having them translate and organize events. These include hands-on workshops, classes, debates, design and art. Past events have included calligraphy classes, Kong Zhu classes and Tai Chi lessons, and a recent debate titled, “New Concepts, Alternative Lifestyles and Progressive Communities.” Some of the organizations’ events are ticketed, with local street food or a drink often included in the ticket price, although many of the meetups are free. All of Beyond the Bund’s events and classes are taught by local elders and translators are provided. The group also organizes lectures and talks from elders about life in 1960s China, helping to improve the mutual understanding across different generations and cultures.
Find it: Tel: 156 9210-9431, www.facebook.com/beyondthebund
Historic Shanghai was founded in 1998 by a small group with the goal of raising awareness of Shanghai’s social and cultural history as well as its Art Deco architecture. From the distinctive period of the Concession era, followed by the Communist era and antagonism against non-supporters, the history of Shanghai is rich and unique, which has also led to many aspects of history being deliberately neglected and forgotten. Historic Shanghai and their extensive collection of books, maps, photographs and interviews aim to piece together the story of Shanghai and share it with people. The group organizes monthly walking tours to explore the built heritage of various Shanghai neighborhoods. Tours include exploring the historically rich former French Concession, the old Chinese city, the Chinese Art Deco city and the International Settlement. In addition, they organize presentations, talks from authors and subject experts and organize film screenings. Book talks are also given by Historic Shanghai, and you can purchase books on request at any of their events.
Find it: www.historic-shanghai.com
A not-for-profit organization, The Rotary Club of Shanghai (RCS) is part of Rotary International, a global charity organization with around 1.2 million members globally. Shanghai Rotarians are involved in various worthy causes in the community, such as providing heart operations for the underprivileged through Gift of Life Shanghai, and provide a platform for networking and socializing among expat professionals. They have been meeting in their current guise since 1997, although they were originally chartered in 1919, making them one of the oldest charities in Shanghai. Membership is by invitation only and Shanghai's club currently has more than 80 members from various professions. Their younger sibling Rotaract aims to give young people of ages 18-30 the skills they need to become socially responsible world citizens. Rotaract engages in cultural and volunteer projects around the country such as food collections, impoverished school renovations, orphanage activities and migrant schoolchildren field trips.
This society for Shanghai’s environmentally conscious group promotes worthy green-related causes. After only five years, this group has spread to more than half a dozen cities in China and carried out hundreds of successful programs, including LEED training workshops and university forums. With multiple events every month in Shanghai, a great starting point to network with like-minded individuals is at their eco-centric documentary film series. For those deeply involved in unique green developments and innovations, sign up online for a chance to introduce your project to members at their monthly meet-up. Green Drinks is a great way of keeping abreast of environmental and social issues in Shanghai and China at large, with a website and newsletter that highlight relevant news and events. The group attracts high-profile speakers who discuss interesting topics such as possible links between Shanghai’s pollution and visual impairment. There are also a number of opportunities to volunteer internally.
Find it: Tel: 2403 3830, www.greeninitiatives.cn
First founded in 1857 by a group of British and Americans seeking intellectual engagement, this organization’s chapter has enjoyed a long history in Shanghai. Operations ceased in 1952 but were revived in 2007. Besides offering an extensive line-up of talks and events, the Society has re-established its journal as well as constructed a library for the benefit of members, scholars and the public. This club tends to draw an older, sophisticated crowd. For example, in 2012 members enjoyed a modern Chinese history study group with college-level coursework. Among other popular regular events is the book club, which meets monthly to discuss a selected book. Sometimes authors will be in attendance, but in all cases the books have a China or regional theme and vary in genre. Expect fiction and non-fiction by non-Chinese authors on Chinese subjects as well as vice versa. Similarly, the society’s film club meets monthly to watch movies about China and by Chinese filmmakers.
Find it: www.royalasiaticsociety.org.cn
Image courtesy of South China Morning Post
This professional community of Shanghai-based international reporters holds weekly talks, discussions and screenings on current events, history, culture, society and business in China, Asia and around the world. Recent subjects range from the Chinese meat industry and Donald Trump's effect on China to commodities markets and ISIS. SFCC talks are among the most informative and provocative in the city, encompassing topics relevant to or being researched by its members and showcasing how Shanghai is reported. Since its establishment in late 2001, it has hosted monthly social and networking events, and provides a hub for information about breaking news in Shanghai as well as journalism jobs and resources. By catering to its titular foreign correspondents, its substantial membership also welcomes media staff and corporate professionals working with or interested in journalistic topics. Membership dues are required, though most events are open to non-members for an additional charge.
Find it: www.shanghaifcc.org
Modern Shanghai’s oldest and ostensibly largest expat organization organizes over 20 events per month between September and June. Staples include morning coffees, luncheons, walks and classes. Social interaction, support and community while promoting understanding of Shanghai’s and China’s culture are the SEA’s underlying missions, and it does so largely through a variety of small groups open to its members. These include the International Women’s Choir, the Art & Architecture Walking Group, and clubs for bridge, quilting, mahjong and tennis. SEA also publishes a variety of material, including its monthly newsletter, "The Courier." Since its founding in 1986, it has also included a charitable element, with a focus on children’s organizations around Shanghai, providing funding for schooling, orphanages and children’s hospitals. It also hosts clothing and toy drives and arranges medical care and therapy for disadvantaged children. SEA is open to all foreign passport holders. Its members currently hail from 40 countries, and about half are native English speakers.
Find it: www.seashanghai.org
Our city’s fabulous queer population grows ever larger, forming a community that is all-inclusive, incredibly friendly and very much committed to raising their visibility. In 2016, Shanghai celebrated its eighth PRIDE festival, a grand, week long festival and public testimony to the community’s remarkable development. Just a few years earlier, PRIDE organizers agreed that the momentum was mounting but the reality of carrying out a public event was still intimidating, according to one key volunteer who helped spearhead the first PRIDE in 2009. More Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also gotten involved with Shanghai LGBT in regard to PRIDE, leading efforts for general awareness among non-gay family, friends and colleagues. When it’s not PRIDE season, the organization is busy throwing themed parties, an annual Halloween Pub Crawl, queer cinema nights and other fun but smaller-scale gatherings. Members also can be found working out—Horizons Running Club, for instance, organizes weekly runs for Shangayers.
Find it: www.shpride.com