Sven Aarne Serrano, founder of Dragon Burn, shares his personal story of helping to bring Burning Man to China.
Becoming Shanghai’s Regional Contact
I first arrived in China in 2008 and finally settled in Shanghai. In 2010 I would go online to the Burning Man website. I enjoyed reading how the Burn and the Culture continued to grow even though my last visit to the Playa was in 2001. I noticed a new “Regional” section. In it there is a map of the world with flags of regional groups and satellite Burns in place. But China was empty.* I thought, ‘I could do that’.
So on my next visit to San Francisco I made an appointment at Burning Man headquarters. There I met Meghan Rutigliano, Associate Director of the Regional Network, and Danger Ranger, founder of the Black Rock Rangers. I received accreditation as the Regional Contact for Shanghai.
Gathering Local Burners
My first effort back on the Huangpu was a press release and a film night at Bar Dada in October 2011. It was a success and suddenly I was no longer alone. As Burners made contact, we began to meet regularly. I suggested three main goals:
- Help Chinese Nationals and Shanghai resident foreigners get to Burning Man
- Promote the 10 Principles of BM as a way of daily life
- Organize and hold a satellite burn event here in China.
This last proposition was met with complete and utter disbelief by several individuals. People told me straight out: ‘The Chinese Government will never ever let you hold an event here’.
Starting Dragon Burn
But I kept on with the idea at our early meeting in the firm conviction that if it were done right, small at first, careful of local laws and sensibilities, we could have a satellite event based on the 10 Principles. Nicholas Kothari, a talented young architect working here in Shanghai agreed with me. Soon he and his partner Jen Childs were also on board to help look for suitable sites in the region. Elaine Kang, our current Regional Contact, joined up in the early days as well. By 2013 we were meeting every month at a business incubator site run by our friend Barry Lee, pulling in more people and ideas.
Nicholas visited more than 20 sites before we found a former movie set from a Chinese dynasty feature nestled on the shores of Lake Tai. This would be the first home of Dragon Burn which took place against all odds in late 2014. It attracted nearly 300 people, 1/3 of whom were local Chinese. From then on, we have never looked back, with Dragon Burn 2015 and 2016 following in quick succession.