ZiWU, Shanghai. A vein of experiences under one roof

When broken down and translated to the English language from Mandarin, the name brings the meaning of ‘House of Magazines’.  Ensuring a means of slow living

ZiWU in Shanghai

Established in 2017, ZiWU is a bookstore founded by media mogul Thomas Shao. Located in the Songjiang District of Shanghai in a three-story building, ZiWU is a response to the trend of the times. A graduate of Tsinghua University in Beijing, Shao worked as a columnist and then onto as a senior publisher. It was in the year of 1993 when Shao established Modern Media Holdings, which now is the owner of the print and digital versions of Numéro, Modern Weekly, Instyle and video media outlet, Nowness, to name a few. Shao says, «The Modern Media Holdings is beyond a company and a livelihood, but my career, values and feelings brought to life».

Managing his career as the head of a publishing company, Shao diversifies his focus into the fine arts – managing and curating Modern Art Base, an art gallery consisting of his personal art collections. Located in the central area of the vast city, the three-story building is a herd of the community as it hosts a multitude of spaces and rooms within its confines. «ZiWU co-exists between two identities. One is in its publishing form under Modern Media. The other is its artistic side, in art and fashion».

ZiWU’s location

In its original structure, the building ZiWU resides in what was once a factory, now repurposed to host a bookstore and a gallery, catering to the wants and needs of the locale. «The structural layout was left unchanged in the manner of architecture of the store. ZiWU was therefore built around the structure of the existing factory». Shao equates ZiWU to Andy Warhol’s The Factory, calling his creation the «Thomas Shao Factory». This to him is, in fact, a one-of-a-kind business model. «The factory exists in applying influence from within the art and fashion circles to seek, provide and spread a spiritual home and cultural pique. It offers accessible high-taste mores for the urbanites in consumption of creative culture». 

Pivoting focus to the saying ‘into media’, ZiWU was born. The name ZiWU is a combination of four words. When broken down and translated to the English language from Mandarin, the name brings the meaning of ‘House of Magazines’. «At its core, that is what we are as an establishment». ZiWU is in central Shanghai, surrounded by a plethora of shopping centers. A means of standing out, ZiWU is in its independent park within the community. Within the confines of the store lies four sections of division.

ZiWU Pavilion, Modern Art Base, Modern Studio and Modern Workshop

ZiWU Pavilion represents the focal point, the bookstore that houses a vast catalogue of magazines, books and vinyl records. Then there is the Modern Art Base, an art gallery hosting Shao’s personal collection of art works from up and coming and established artists. Visitors who intend on viewing the art on display need to pay a mere fifty RMB (six euros). The payment also entails a coffee and a discount on book purchases. Living within ZiWU is Modern Studio, an image themed space that showcases photographic material by local as well as international talent. The last is Modern Workshop. This area is a public education space for the utilization of guests. Each of these spaces is a combination of culture, art, design, image and architecture, forming ZiWU into a creative parish. A hub providing spiritual nourishment.

ZiWU’s existence is an effort in tenacity. A combination of technology, various forms of media and experience into a tangible concept. The driving force behind founding ZiWU follows a sense of urgency to the death of print media. «Readers have begun to question the necessity of paper. Be it in books or magazines. Cities are facing what I call the ‘Bookstore Disappearing Crisis’. We believe that physical copies of books cannot be eliminated from the environs». He adds that bookstores and information go together, urging the connection and exchange of experiences and ideas between individuals. Shao shares the ideal bookstore to be a space where buyers are able to visualize a book they have yet to hear of or discover. The purpose of the bookstore, such as ZiWU, is an agent of discovery of knowledge. 

Lampoon, ZiWU bookstore, interior space
ZiWU bookstore, interior space

Lampoon review: ZIWU’s sections of divisions

This urged the curation and creation of Space Zine, an offline area bringing life to magazines. The space, in fact, is where magazines are three-dimensional, and consumers can interact with them. ZiWU acts as a club to the paying members of Modern Media. These customers can experience culture, fashion, art as well as lifestyle through an online application. Known as ZiWU club, users can curate topic rooms and theme activities based on certain contents of interest. The curation of facets within ZiWU was an intention to ensure a means of slow living. «ZiWU is a physical space with a magazine structure. The integration of magazines into the local scene is necessary to solve spiritual anxiety of urbanites».

To Shao, space is an enactment of media and the behaviors that take place in such a space is content for consumption. Physical space therefore becomes a medium of connection between a multitude of individuals and the brands they uphold. Through these moments is how the interconnection of the community is preserved. An intention to disseminate a way of life and to provide their consumers with a one-stop leisure space, ZiWU becomes a destination for visitors to enjoy life.

The perseverance of art in ZiWU is a response to the late-stage post-internet era. The curated content presented at ZiWU, in fact, allows recognition and integration of consumption in modern retail. «In the internet era that we are in, where there is a blend in a traditional and modern spirit, ZiWU allows for aesthetical transformation and merge». 

The bookstore’s design

Since its opening, ZiWU has made some changes to the interior body that carries its name. In the year 2018, ZiWU’s Modern Eye Space expanded to include a set of four sections that has carried on to this day. They include ZiWU Books, ZiWU Focus, ZiPU Collection and ZiPU Pop-Up. Each of these individual sections hold meaning and bodies the store to what it is.

ZiWU Books hosts a library of books in a variety of genres – art, photography and design, for instance are available for customers to purchase. ZiWU Focus is, as per its name, a central focus on design, photography as well as lifestyle. The space also has on occasion exhibition purposes. While, ZiPU Collection is utilized on the second floor. This sub-brand brings together the works of artists, photographers and creators who have designed quality objects, products and illustrations. The area is a means to showcase and give exposure to the artists in the area, plateauing newfound talent and existing artists. The remaining section is ZiPU Pop-Up, located on the third floor of the building. Further, on occasion, designers and brands have the opportunity to host events for the consumption of guests that frequent the space.

Since then, ZiWU has the addition of Modern Art Base, Modern Studio, Modern Workshop and Modern Art Kitchen – entities existing in tandem under the ZiWU name. «We intend to provide a one stop leisure space for consumers to unwind while gaining knowledge». At the peak of the pandemic, ZiWU even launched their brand name, a large-format magazine called ZiWU Journal. The contents shed light on the attitude, belief, creativity, dream and energy from an array of perspectives of art and culture. The first issue records a prime period that captures profound change in an individual’s view of life and their future. 

Lampoon, ZiWU, outdoor space
ZiWU, outdoor space

ZiWU’s 2021 plans

With the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on the global scale, physical bookstores of sorts were forced either into a halt or foreclosure. The influence of print media, in its decline slipped further into an unknown territory. Such a happenstance therefore gives no ease to establishments like ZiWU, whose primary focus is on print.

Through its struggles, Shao pushed forward through the crumbling structures of what we now know today. There were significant issues to be resolved in order to continue on with the daily operations of the establishments. «For the Spring issue of 2020 of the ZiWU Journal, I served as the role of editor and visual director. This was a means to push forward to creating something fresh for the consumption of our existing and unfamiliar customers».

In March of 2021, ZiWU will be hosting Gary Card’s solo exhibition – a collaboration with ZiWU. The vision of the exhibition is to showcase a focus on exclusive derivatives. Following suit, Chinese artist Song Ta will be exhibiting a large-scale fashion concept exhibition by utilizing the space within ZiWU to create a large-scale IP of the fashion community. «Artist Song Ta will reconstruct the tradition that lies in fashion with a modern vocabulary».

Shao shares that in the month of May, Dior and Kenny Scharf’s cross-border art project will also be launched. Repurposing the outdoor space of ZiWU into a large-scale visual arts installation, viewers can immerse themselves in graphic experience. Further, other large-scaled art activities from Chen Danqing’s solo exhibition, Shanghai Video Week and Art Power100 will take place at ZiWU as well. In the near future, ZiWU is set to launch their ZiWU Club App. This would allow for customers on the application to connect online as well as offline, curating a community for those involved within the arts.


Building 1, 10 Jianguo Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai

ZiWU is a bookstore bookstore founded by media mogul Thomas Shao, located in the Songjiang District of Shanghai in a three-story building.

Pravin Nair

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.