Rooftoppers of Shanghai

By Zhong Wenxing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/15 18:08:39

Armed with courage and cameras, daredevil climbers are taking over the skyline

"Ninety-nine percent of citizens in Shanghai never look upwards, they always look down and concentrate on their phones," says Chernobro (pictured below), a rooftopper in Shanghai. Part of the city's growing trend of daredevils, rooftoppers scale Shanghai's tallest skyscrapers, often illegally, for rare vantage points from which to take unique photos of the iconic cityscape.


Armed with cameras and courage, rooftoppers must stake out buildings for days or weeks at a time until an opportunity presents itself to bypass security in order to gain access to the top floors. Once on the roof, they hide out for hours or even days waiting for the perfect picture.

Chernobro, a 24-year-old Russian national, has been living in Shanghai for six years. He studied at university here and now works as a filmmaker (Instagram: @chernobro).

His first rooftopping experience was two years ago, which he says was "just for fun," but since then he has climbed most of the high structures in the city.

"I was excited watching the city, the people, the cars and police managing the traffic. Nobody looked upwards, never," Chernobro told the Global Times.

He added that he started climbing trees at age 5, which eventually evolved into his other hobby, rock climbing.

"I enjoy climbing something other than just stairs," Chernobro laughed. "Of course I get scared, but somehow I manage control. Fear is just something moving you. I am trying to control my mind and body and fight the fear."


A rooftopper in Shanghai Photos: Courtesy of Chernobro

Fear is not real, but danger is

David Yen (Instagram: @chilltron4000), an editor for Neocha's online magazine, started rooftopping four years ago. "I don't remember the exact roof, but I'm sure I was nervous as hell. Even now, I often feel the same sense of nervousness when I go up some roofs."

Yen has a good understanding of his personal limits. "I never place myself in a position that I'm even in the least bit uncomfortable with." He pointed out that it is important for rooftoppers to be cautious and respectful.

"Seeing as when you're on a rooftop and in a precarious position, you're also a danger to people below you on the street."

"Most people think, 'oh rooftoppers they are so crazy.' In general, I think rooftopping could be safe," said Chernobro, who pays close attention to conditions such as the weather and the roof's structure.

"Fear is not real, but the danger is real. Before I climb, I always check many times to make sure it is stable. I wouldn't climb where I can be possibly injured. I love my life."

Yen said that he wouldn't encourage anyone to do anything they're not comfortable with. "Being alive is infinitely better than getting likes on social media," he told the Global Times.


Part of the city's growing trend of daredevils, rooftoppers scale Shanghai's tallest skyscrapers, often illegally, for rare vantage points from which to take unique photos of the iconic cityscape. Photo: Courtesy of David Yen

Feeling complete peace

"When you get used to it (standing on top of a roof), you start feeling complete peace. There is no more quiet place in this big city," Chernobro said. "You can observe the city, watch people doing their own things, but you are no longer among them."

Yen's motivation to scale precarious rooftops has to do with accessing rare vantage points from which to take unique photos of Shanghai's skyline.

Other rooftoppers like Zhu Qi, a local professional photographer, have similar visual interests.

Zhu told the Global Times that he only goes rooftopping on clear days with no clouds or smog. "Only two or three satisfactory photos can be made in a whole year."

Security can also get in the way of an ideal shot. "One day, I was shooting the sunset from the top of a roof", Zhu said. "The colorful burning sky was about to reach its peak. But at this same moment a guard came up, so I had to stop (and missed the photo)."

According to the Shanghai Observer, Shanghai has the most over-200-meter skyscrapers on the Chinese mainland, which attracts countless photographers from across the country and the world. But few are still satisfied with the now-cliché postcard shots from the Bund.

In 2014, two Russian daredevils, Vadim Makhorov and Vitaly Raskalov, illegally scaled the 632-meter Shanghai Tower in Lujiazui, the world's second tallest building.

The tower at that time was still under construction; few people except construction workers had ever viewed the city from its vantage point.

After the Russians posted a video of their ascent on YouTube, copycat daredevils and wannabe rooftoppers also began breaking and entering the Shanghai Tower property.

As such, tower staff had to double down on their security measures. The Shanghai Morning Post reported that local police were also forced to get involved.

Zhu said that today there are so many security guards posted at the top of Shanghai Tower that it is nearly impossible to access its roof except with official permission.


A breathtaking view of Shanghai's skyline Photo: Courtesy of Zhu Qi

Encouraging rooftopping

Chernobro said that a friend, a drone pilot, was recently caught in Beijing taking pictures of Forbidden City from the drone. The police captured him and checked his drone to see if he was a terrorist.

"He explained he was just seeking pictures. The police let him go but said if they catch him again he will have a big problem."

"It's illegal, yes," said Chernobro. "I work in China, so I don't want to be blacklisted."

Fang Qingyu, vice secretary general of the tenth committee of Shanghai Property Management Institution, told media that rooftopping should be supported by the city.

"As a nonprofit hobby and artistic creation, these rooftoppers recording Shanghai's cityscape need to be encouraged."

In 2015, SOHO China Chairman Pan Shiyi, a property tycoon, also encouraged legal rooftop photography.

"The sightseeing platform of Bund SOHO is open to photographers free of charge," Pan wrote on his official Weibo account.

"To ensure safe and orderly conduct, the department concerned could arrange some platforms to be open for rooftoppers and release the relevant regulations. Social groups also could play a role in management and coordination of rooftopping," Fang added.


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