Li Zhesong lives and works in Suzhou (founded 514 BC), a metropolis bordering the Shanghai municipality. After achieving his Masters in architecture and urban planning, he worked for five years as a member of an architecture institute, as an "urban designer," as they are known in China.
His interest in the craft began with purchasing and refurbishing estate pipes, and inexorably progressed towards pipe making, which he began doing part-time five years ago, transitioning to full-time three years ago. Li counts amongst his influences his father, a wood pattern technician who taught him early lessons in the techniques and tools of shaping wood, the Leizhou Pipes artisans and Li Bing for correspondence more specific to pipe making, and Tom Eltang, whom he met and sought (and received) advice (and a great deal of encouragement) from during Eltang's visit to a prominent Shanghai pipe shop.
While Li's work impressed us on first seeing it, what impressed us even more was his dedication to making everything just-right; it is the type of personal habit that goes a long way towards explaining how a largely self-taught artisan achieves the level of skill we see in Li's work at present, and the type of habit that promises only better things in the future.
Li sources his briar from Italy, and his vulcanite from Germany, and cures the former for a minimum of two additional years once it is in his possession. At present he makes fewer than 80 pipes a year (being full-time is, unsurprisingly, evidently something he uses to focus even more on quality — his numbers were actually higher during his earlier, part-time years). Li no longer uses a grading system as of 2014, but does stamp every pipe with the year produced ("15" for 2015, for example) and a serial number (such as "08" for the 8th pipe made in a given year).