Cotton Ding: The Girl from Hunan Who Turned Up & Took Over

By Ned Kelly, September 21, 2023

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Shanghai institution Cotton's is turning 20 this weekend, and throwing a big party on Saturday.  

Ahead of that, we sat down for a video interview with its eponymous heroine, the hostess with a billion-megawatt smile, Ms Cotton Ding.

Scroll down to watch the video, but before you do, we thought we'd also whet your whistle with 10 things we learned from our sit down with the Shanghai superstar...

1. She was sacked from her first job in a factory for being a self-confessed 'troublemaker.'

2. Her first business was as a shoeshine girl in her home town - she was so popular that she ended up making more money that her mother.

3. Her F&B career began in Guangzhou working for Kathleen, of Kathleen's 5 and Kathleen's Waitan fame.

4. She couldn't yet speak English at that point, but her beautiful smile won everybody over.

5. Her degree was in design, but she couldn't find a job (and broke up with her boyfriend) so decided to move to the bright lights of Shanghai.

6. Kathleen introduced her to Bob Boyce, and she became 'the best bartender ever' working in Blue Frog on Maoming Lu… when Maoming Lu was THE party street (if you know, you know).

7. One customer was so impressed, he put up the money for her own place, and the Cotton's legend was born. His name was Christian Aebi, and he's still her business partner 20 years down the line.

8. The very first iteration of Cotton's was stolen from her by an unscrupulous landlord (the community rallied round Cotton, boycotting the place, and it soon went out of business).

9. A beautiful patio and garden, an escape from big city life, are central to the Cotton's philosophy. As is live music, originally suggested to her by the legend that is Greg Smith of Cotton Club.

10. She's the girl from Hunan who turned up and took over. We'll drink to that!

20 Year Anniversary @ Cotton's


Cotton is celebrating 20 years of fun and friendship with a party in her beautiful villa and stunning garden, with live music from Alec Haavik and the Jive Lizards.

Sat Sep 23, 4pm-Late.

Cotton's Xinhua Lu, 294 Xinhua Lu, by Panyu Lu 新华路294 号, 近番禺路.

Join our 'Shanghai F&B Fans' WeChat Group


[Video by Eric Sun]

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