The career of Shanghai curator Zhao Yong Gang — like China's nascent art scene — has mirrored Shanghai's stratospheric rise. Though the outside world had little interest in the country's art a few years ago, today collectors consider Chinese contemporary art a great way to cash in on China's "It" factor. Thanks to a keen eye for talent and an impeccably timed decision to try his hand at dealing art (Zhao was a struggling artist until 2004), the 32-year-old now owns two prominent Shanghai galleries and is considered a rising star in the increasingly big-business world of Chinese contemporary art. Last fall, Zhao took Go on an insider's tour of the best haunts in the city.
1. The Bund, a stately, mile-long avenue of buildings along the west bank of the Huangpu River (once considered China's Wall Street), is the backbone of Old Shanghai. These days the financial district has shifted across the river to Pudong, home to Shanghai's iconic skyline. Zhao says the best way to appreciate the juxtaposition of the two is on a Huangpu River cruise. There are plenty of operators, but for a unique experience, charter the Shanghai Ritz-Carlton's luxury cruiser (ritzcarlton.com).
2. Zhao likes to eat on the top floor of the old Nissin Shipping building (built in 1921) at M on the Bund (m-restaurantgroup.com), the west-bank establishment that reintroduced sophisticated European dining to Shanghai. "I like to sit here and imagine what the road must have felt like two or three generations ago — and what it will become," says Zhao. "I'd like to see museums move in beside these bars and restaurants and high-end clothing shops. That is what these buildings deserve." After dinner, grab a drink downstairs at Glamour Bar (m-restaurantgroup.com), the city's finest throwback to its 1930s heyday, with tall ceilings, parquet floors, and art deco furniture.
3. Zhao believes there are only two places in Shanghai where it's worth shopping for art: his 1918 ArtSpace (1918artspace.com) — naturally — and the Shanghai Gallery of Art (shanghaigalleryofart.com). "They only show the most famous Chinese artists," he says of the SGA. The setting is worthy of the art: The inside of Three on the Bund (threeonthebund.com), the cupolaed, 92-year-old former Union Assurance building, was recently renovated by renowned architect Michael Graves.
4. Take a long run through 98-year-old Fuxing Park (011-86-21-5386-1069), a 22-acre, distinctly Shanghainese expanse in the French Concession, southwest of the Bund, where European-style flower gardens sit placidly next to bumper-car rinks, hip-hop clubs, and granite statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Early in the morning, you'll see locals fishing, playing mah-jongg and Chinese checkers, practicing their ballroom dancing, and doing tai chi. Book a private tai chi lesson in the park with the Long Wu International Kung Fu Center (011-86-13003252826).
5 "Tea is the root of Chinese culture," Zhao says, adding that only one teahouse in Shanghai really warrants a visit: Gu Yuan Antique (011-86-21-6445-4625). Here, tea is treated like wine — and priced accordingly. Pots start at around $20, and a taste of Gu Yuan's specialty, fermented and aged pu-erh tea, can cost hundreds of dollars.
6. Dotted with windswept yellow temples and convents, Putuoshan, a tiny island 100 miles southeast of Shanghai, is one of four mountains Chinese Buddhists consider sacred. For a daylong escape from the city, Zhao comes here to hike along empty stretches of sand, winding mountain roads, and craggy promontories battered by the East China Sea. China Eastern Airlines makes the 30-minute hop daily from Shanghai to Zhoushan Airport, just a few minutes by speedboat from Putuoshan (book at ctrip.com).
— Dan Washburn