Els fired a five under-par, 67 on the 6,495-meter Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club course.
The man known as "the Big Easy" shares the lead with Simon Wakefield of England, Peter Lawrie of Ireland, New Zealand's Eddie Lee, Raphael Jacquelin and Jean Van De Velde of France, and Larry Austin of Australia.
Jeev Milkha Singh of India shares eighth place with Richard Sterne of South Africa and Anders Hansen of Denmark at three under-par, 69.
Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain is part of a large group of golfers three strokes off the pace at two under-par, 70. The European and Asian PGA Tours jointly sanction this tournament.
Some information for this report provided by AP.