Mark Graham has been documenting the monumental changes in China for the past two decades – most recently from Beijing, the frenetically-paced capital of the world’s most populous nation.
Graham, who also has a base in Hong Kong, writes about business, lifestyle, cuisine, art, wine, architecture and fashion for a wide range of international newspapers, magazines and digital platforms, always with an eye for the unusual, offbeat, or even absurd.
The northern city of Beijing, home to 20 million people, offers the chance to have a close-up view of the most stupendous, dizzyingly-fast, economic rise in history, a thirty-year spell that has seen people go from dire poverty to new-money affluence.
It is a story that captivates the world still: everyone wants to know how this vast nation of 1.3 billion people works, and there is no better way to tell it than through real-life stories; Graham explains the big picture through a clear-eyed journalistic prism, with features that vividly, and authoritatively, capture modern-day China, a work very much in progress.
Individuals profiled recently by Graham include a tycoon who decided, after watching a Prince Charles video, that he would build his own polo club; a Belgian billionaire who is bankrolling a gallery devoted to showing groundbreakingly outrageous art; a Beijing couture designer who wowed the fashion world with her stunning gold gown created for pop star Rihanna; the Chinese actress who starred alongside Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon; and a British explorer who has discovered new sections of the Great Wall.
The writer is also regularly commissioned to write analytical pieces on the economic miracle that is modern-day China, particularly the most visible example of that get-rich trajectory, the luxury industry, which has annual revenues of more than US$25 billion.
That has involved interviewing all the fashion heavyweights who now regularly visit Beijing: recent interviewees have included the world’s best known photographer, Mario Testino, famous for his Vogue covers and Princess Diana portraits, Chinese supermodel Liu Wen, British singer-turned-designer Victoria Beckham, creative whizz Christopher Bailey of Burberry, Italian maverick and style guru Lapo Elkann of the Fiat-owning Agnelli family and larger-than-life entrepreneur Roberto Cavalli.
All were profiled by Graham, who contributes to a wide variety of international publications including the South China Morning Post, Business Traveller, Discovery, Silk Road, various Vogue magazines, the Departures and Centurion magazines of American Express, the Sunday Times travel magazine, Wine Spectator, decanter.com, travelandleisure.com, forbes.com and Runners World. Graham is also the founder of the soon-to-launch chinastylefile.com.
In feature stories, the writer aims to capture the pulse and zeitgeist of today’s China, now the world’s second-largest economy. That rapid growth spurt has come at no small cost, thick, choking smog being the most visible and noxious example.
Like most health-conscious people in Beijing, Graham, is a devotee of the US embassy web site that monitors daily pollution, grading it from good, to hazardous, to off-the-scale levels.
It is one of the downsides of living in this frantic, ever-changing city, a place that is still blinking into the brash daylight of international consumerism after years of grinding poverty. It is polluted, noisy and crowded but never – even on a Dickensian-smog day in the bone-chilling cold of minus 20 – dull. Not for one second.
When not documenting change in Beijing, the writer can be found running in its city parks – he has completed a full marathon, regularly runs half marathons and 10K races and writes a monthly column for China Runners World – or spending time with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. The latter, who is half British and half Chinese, has only ever lived in the capital city, is totally bilingual, and has been known to act as translator for her father . . .