With all the hustle and bustle of a city like Shanghai, sometimes it’s hard to unplug and focus on what you enjoy doing, or find others with a shared passion. For the tech-enthusiasts, the organization XinCheJian offers a space to bring together hackers, students, and anyone looking to build interesting things in order to form a fun, interest-driven community.
XinCheJian is a hackerspace, a community-operated space where people can come together and work on projects. There are plenty of toolkits and other gadgetry available for use and multiple projects to work on, from robot-racing to urban farming. The real draw, though, is the community, where hackers can find other people who are just as passionate about technology as they are.
“We’re more like a club for people who are really into building crazy stuff,” explains David Li, one of XinCheJian’s founders. “People here become friends and hang out on weekends. And week nights. And sometimes during lunch hours.”
Hackers at XinCheJian constructing a quadcopter.
A look around the space reveals countless technological creations in various states of repair. On one shelf lies a Wall-E toy, reconstructed to become a winning robot racer. Lower on the shelf is a miniature hovercraft that looks like it’s about to fall apart.
“There are so many projects going on here it’s hard to say how many there are,” says Paul Adams, a staff member. Like all other staff members, Paul works part time, a graphic designer by trade. According to Paul, one of the hackerspace’s members is currently working to recreate the hackerspace in the popular virtual-world building game Minecraft. His goal is to link the virtual space to the real office, so that when you turn on a light in the virtual world, the corresponding light in the real world also turns on.
XinCheJian grew out of a co-working initiative called XinDanWei, a cooperative office space. David met other tech enthusiasts there, and before long they decided to branch off and form their own cooperative space for hackers.
A Wall-E robot racer constructed at XinCheJian.
The organization quickly gathered momentum over the past few years, and now hosts 50 to 75 people every month. The crowd is around half local and half expatriate, ranging from Shanghainese high school students who speak little English to foreigners who have just as much trouble communicating in Chinese. However, it becomes apparent that they do share a language—the language of hackers, of computer codes and technology, and when they are working on projects together it seems that there aren’t any barriers at all.
“When I first started here, I got the nickname ‘I Burn Stuff,’ because everything I attached power to caught on fire, or smoked, or exploded,” says Paul, “and that’s something you can do at XinCheJian. You can burn stuff, accidentally or on purpose.” Pointing at the hovercraft on the shelf, he says, “I made that. I programmed it. It was running. And then, come race day, I attached a new battery to it, and the connectors were backwards, and it started burning. It’s a letdown, but you fall off your horse, and you get back on and do it again.”
XinCheJian staff member Paul Adams shows off one of his creations.
Making mistakes and learning from them is the true spirit of XinCheJian. It’s an open and friendly space, filled with people with an “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission” attitude.
"You need to be persistent, there has to be a reason you’re doing it. You can’t just plop yourself down and expect to absorb information. But if you go do your own research, and try, you learn a lot,” says Paul. ““I think these spaces will replace universities, they will replace major product design houses. They all know that. Even the government came down and had a look around, and now they’re making hackerspaces all around Shanghai.”
Find out more about XinCheJian at their website. They have Open Nights every wednesday from 7-9pm.
For more information about coop spaces check out our feature on Cohub, a space for creative artists of all genres who come together to share inspiration and to connect with like-minded people.
WORDS: ANDREW WEN