Ziboy in the Flesh

Last Monday I had the pleasure of meeting Wen Ling (温凌) of Ziboy.com in the flesh. Although I interviewed him once upon a time, we hadn’t communicated much since then. I was happy, then, to get an e-mail from him out of the blue saying he was going to be in town and did I want to meet up.

I was hoping that he was going to show up with a camera around his neck, because the only angle I could possibly recognize Wen Ling from would be the absolute profile shot. (He never posts any other photos of himself.) He didn’t show up with his camera out–and in fact I never even saw his camera–but he had no trouble identifying me.

Talking with Wen Ling, I found out he has a personal connection to Shanghai. He thinks of himself as a Beijinger, but he actually spent some of his early years in Shanghai, his mother’s hometown. He even understands quite a bit of Shanghainese. Still, he wouldn’t want to live here. Beijing is his home.

There was one point in our conversation which, to me, made Wen Ling feel distinctly non-Shanghainese in his outlook. He told me he no longer works as a photojournalist, even though it paid well and he really enjoyed it. He quit the job because what he wanted most was to pursue his art. As a photojournalist, he simply never had time for it.

I know this type of person exists in Shanghai too, but they seem so marginalized here. Somehow in Beijing pursuing art is just natural…


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I first found his site while still in law school. It got me so very sentimental for the Mainland that I signed up for an advanced intensive summer course just to get back to Beijing. Stupid SARS…

  2. “The only good is knowledge, the only evil, ignorance.” – Socrates (of Plato Socrates sodomizing fame)

    Pursuing art could be seen as the -purest- way to spend ones remaining life. Money, power and fame, may be the prize to select artists, but people who were raised comfortably in life may seek individuality and freedom in art.

  3. hi,john!
    thank you very much!
    you are very friendly!
    thanks for your nice Dinner!
    welcome to beijing!!!

  4. I like his pictures but there’s only so many shots of arty Beijing kids at galleries and rock concerts that I can take. Or is he repeating them?

  5. You know you’ve been in China too long when you start making the same generalizations about people from different parts of the country as the Chinese do.

    I know this type of person exists in Shanghai too, but they seem so marginalized here. Somehow in Beijing pursuing art is just natural…

    They’re marginalized everywhere. There’s a reason we have the term “starving artist.”

  6. John B,

    And how long do you have to leave in Shanghai before you start getting defensive when it’s criticized?

    Sorry, but there is some truth to some of the generalizations. I don’t see why it’s hard to accept that some cities are more “artist-friendly” than others.

  7. you called that an interview, well…..it’s fresh to me

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