Session 2: Commoning the City

Shuyun Cao & DMAS


An improvisational music event on Dinghai Bridge, 2020, Photo: Shuyun Cao

Shuyun Cao is a member of Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society, a Shanghai-based commoning initiative for alternative art and social practices. She received her master’s degree in Urban Studies at University College London and currently works as an editor of IDEAT China. Shuyun is active in the research and practices of art/activism, creative place-making, and guerrilla urbanism through curation, event-planning, and other community-based projects. She initiated “Bureau of Guerrilla Urbanism” to reclaim public spaces through collective actions in experimental, pop-up and playful ways, such as every year’s PARK(ing) Day Shanghai. She is also a swing dancer in her spare time.

Project Description

Title: Being manuke, Being Together: The Alternative Commoning Practices of Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society in Shanghai


A view of the groundfloor of Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society, 2018, Photo: Nuit

Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society(DMAS) is a self-organized collective as well as an independent space for alternative relational and social practices under the principle of reciprocity. Located in the area of Dinghaiqiao, a historical working-class neighbourhood in Shanghai, DMAS grounds itself in the complex reality of contemporary China that has been undergoing massive urban redevelopment and social transformation. Operated at a distance from the mainstream institutional and commercial settings, the DMAS initiative seeks to practice self-education, mutual support and civic engagement through various actions. Informal and playful as the activities may seem, the practices can be viewed as creative resistance to today’s prevailing neoliberal politics, and suggest alternative ways of community engagement, art/activism and space-making that are emerging in East Asia.

An alternative book launch event of KongXiangPao by Wangzhanhei, 2017, Photo: Luo Zha

In our presentation, we will discuss some key ideas around DMAS’s operation, such as reciprocity, “gongzhi (共治in Chinese)”, co-creation, “being manuke” and “baotuanqunuan (抱团取暖in Chines)”. We seek to examine how these spirits are exercised in the process of developing creative projects; how a sense of commonality is imagined, negotiated, and gradually nurtured through the everyday experience of “being together” at DMAS; and more broadly, how trans-regional relationships are created and weaved through continuous exchanges with other like-minded collectives in the East Asian art/activist network.

DMAS Contributors:

Yiren ZHAO is a member of Dinghaiqiao Mutual-Aid Society, with a background of psychology and a job on curriculum research and design. She is mainly interested in alternative education practice and community facilitation. She also teaches piano and participates in band practice, with a concern of music therapy.

Mengyang ZHAO is a researcher in residence at Dinghaiqiao Mutual-Aid Society. She studies transnational social movements and digital labor. Her dissertation at University of Pennsylvania analyzes the rise of platform game work in China. 

Weilun ZHANG is a member of Dinghaiqiao Mutual-Aid Society. He is interested in alternative narratives of the city and actions through which young people establish networks of care and senses of place. Zhang is currently pursuing Erasmus Mundus joint masters in urban studies in Europe.