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the i-D guide to the top young creatives of china

China, aka the People’s Republic, aka “Zhong Guo”, aka the Middle Kingdom, is progressing at lightning-like pace, undergoing huge generational change, teeming with endless talent and swarming with freaks, geeks, artsy entrepreneurs and rip-roaring avant-gardians. We profile five of the Middle Kingdom’s most frontline brands and the creative brains behind them, and ask them for a punchy Chinese one-liner, or ‘chengyu’, about their craft.

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Text Cody Ross

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  • Ma Yansong, China’s it-est avant-garde architect

    Architect Ma Yansong creates ectoplasmic forms that look like worm holes to other worlds. The buildings and objects he makes feel anti-gravitational and seem like alien paraphernalia from a distant world. They are edgeless, seamless, kinetic, stirring and surreal; Tron, dada, futurism and paradox live large in his creations. Ma has a super-human grasp of complex systems, chaos theory and engineering as he continuously pushes parameters around architecture, design and fabrication. He's a former apprentice of Zaha Hadid, and his edifices are laced with Zaha-like zeal of tortured forms, stretched mediums, slick minimalism and freaky fluxions. The precocious Ma is certainly leading Chinese architecture into some fantastically disruptive domains! We especially ♥ love his “Shan-Shui City” in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park and his eye-popping alien exhibits in the southern city of Shenzhen!

    “Haode kaishi shi chenggong yi ban” (“好的开端是成功的一半”) – “A good beginning is half the battle.”

    Ma Yansong of MAD, China’s it-est avant-garde architect

  • Chen Man, photography wondergirl…

    i-D fav Chen Man is the Beijing based whiz who makes hyper-real imagery that incorporates visual, symbolic and historical associations. An artist steeped in Chinese tradition and in an art world anxious to be open, Chen is at the forefront of China’s international creative scene. Her beautiful works explore explicit fields of tension, male and female, east and west, realism and fantasy. With numerous i-D covers under her belt, and one of China’s lone female art pioneers, Chen shows us how China is managing to adapt in the midst of profound political and artistic upheavals. Bold, beautiful and experimental, her images are like teeming encyclopedias of the real, the feigned, the abstract and the altered. 

    “Bai fa bai zhong!” (“百发百中!”) – “Shoot one hundred shots, hit one hundred bullseyes!”

    Chen Man, China’s graphic girl wonder…


    Designed and curated by Hong Kong’s hippest hustlers, Eri and Philip Chu, GROUND-ZERO is the brand that burns with transgressive oomph and avant-garde pizzazz. The Chu bros employ technical savvy and psycho-visual whiplash to make ecstatic essentials and the most dashing street gear you’ve ever put your peepers on! Fusing elements of high and low fashion with stark graphics, slick styling, Oriental embellishments and bucket loads of wit, the brand has been getting some well-deserved praise lately. Nicola Formichetti talked them up in a thoughtful essay on the Rising East, saying they are “at the forefront of Asia’s cool new creative wave.” Italian Vogue included them in their acclaimed “Rising Talents” series. And China’s cultural elite don their wears on the red carpet. Perhaps the rise of the East has played no small part in their ascent: the Chu brothers are basically China’s coolest creative duo with their mischievous motifs, risqué iconography, warped Chinese calligraphy and sinister caricatures.

    “Bu ke si yi” (“不可思议”) – “Things can somehow be nuanced and amazing in unexpected ways.”

    GROUND-ZERO by brothers Eri and Philip Chu.


    Kay Wong is one of China’s indisputable fashion icons stalking the streets of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong today. As one of Guangdong’s most prolific designers, Kay places her sense of free-spiritness and surrealism at the fore of her aesthetic, making dreams come true and fantasies take flight. For the last few years she’s been braiding together fashion, art, commerce and the charming internal magic of herself - designing her acclaimed collection (under the name DAYDREAM NATION), curating creative spaces (including the esteemed Hong Kong Arts Centre), launching pop-ups, mentoring start-ups, and adding tons of gusto to China’s fledgling fashion/art scene.

    “Xie Nong Yu Shui” (“血浓于水”) – “Blood is thicker than water.”


  • NUMB x Howard Chan

    Howard Chan is one of the most exciting young creatives in China today. He established NUMB a few years ago in Hong Kong, catering to China’s artistic and avant-garde class. A designer who has dispensed with the rule book, and fabricates in such a manner that his wears have won the hearts and minds of the Middle Kingdom’s coolest critics, consumers and weirdos alike. He deploys sartorial signals of androgyny, minimalism and romantic modernism, albeit with a Sino sartorial twist and hardcore optical zest. Howard has brilliantly carved out his own original niche, not to mention a loyal fan-base which continues to grow from Hong Kong to Heilongjiang. Not surprisingly, the designer also creates extremely kick-ass accessories and interior objects, and his newest NUMB flagship store is a monument to China’s artistic ascendancy.

    “Yuan shui jiu bu liao jin huo” (“远水救不了近火”) - “Water far away cannot extinguish a local fire.”


    NUMB x Howard Chan