The AllSet Learning Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app comes preloaded with several free “books.” Although I immensely enjoyed creating a story involving post-apocalyptic steam punk dinosaurs, in some ways those free books were the most interesting. That’s because the content of each book is a simple interview question which is then answered by 10 different Chinese college kids. They’re all studying in Shanghai, but they come from all over China. You get to hear each young person’s own voice, see their photo, and even read their actual handwriting (in characters), which is also accompanied by text. This is a lot more interesting than most textbooks the kids are using these days! Through this app, it’s my hope to show a diverse, modern side of China’s youth, different from other sources.
We’ve aimed for intermediate level learners in the past, but we would consider doing simpler or more difficult questions. The interview questions already included in the app are:
1. 你最喜欢吃什么？ (What do you most like to eat?)
2. 谈到美国，你第一个想到的是什么？ (When speaking of the USA, what’s the first thing you think of?)
3. 你认为幸福是什么？ (What do you think happiness is?)
And this is the part where I ask you, my readers, what types of questions you’d like us to ask for the next round of interviews. The questions need to be relatively short, and somewhat open-ended, but nothing requiring an essay to answer. It’s OK to get just a little bit into the human side of politics (One Child Policy, etc.), but we’re not going to do any particularly inflammatory topics, or topics that could get the interviewees in trouble.
So what questions would you like to see covered in the Chinese Picture Book Reader? Please share in the comments, or drop me an email if you like.
Ziboy is a name well-known among those who frequent China blogs. It is the name of a frequently updated photoblog maintained by a twenty-something professional photographer in Beijing. I won’t say anything about the photography; the pieces speak for themselves. The photographer himself, though — Wen Ling — always seemed somewhat mysterious and inaccessible to me. I had questions. I wrote him an e-mail in Chinese and he was very friendly and open to the idea of an e-mail interview. This is the translated result.
How many photos do you take a week?
I take more than about 500 a week.
How do you organize all your images on your hard drive?
Initially I was creating a new folder every month, but later I was taking too many and just
started creating a new folder daily.
Have you ever had any formal education in photography?
No, but I have had formal fine arts education.
How do you capture the people in a natural pose without them being distracted by the camera?
Sometimes I use a 70-200 mid-range telephoto lens to shoot while keeping my distance from them.
The Nikon 995 camera I once used had its concealment advantages too. Also I just take many
photos [of one subject] successively, and there will always be one or two with good
Do you have any plans to travel, or do you plan to continue focusing exclusively on Beijing in
I won’t go travelling in order to take pictures, but I would really like to travel.
How did you make the transition from amateur to professional photography? Was it difficult?
Haha, so funny, this is going to give me a big head.
In regards to photographic technique and knowledge, I have learned a fair amount. You know,
when I first started I barely even knew what a roll of film was! Since my job was shooting
news on the street, it was more or less the same as before when I was shooting on the street,
so the transition from amateur to professional photographer was very natural. I also need to
be thankful for the friendly, pragmatic atmosphere of the news office. I got used to my job
Do you feel very constricted by digital photography and online space limitations?
I think it was digital cameras that made me feel all the joy and freedom of photography that was never
there before. Digital cameras’ shutter lag problem is a shortcoming that I really regret, as a
lot of brilliant moments are impossible to capture. I think for now using the three media of
text and images along with Flash animation for artistic expression is already relatively
technologically mature. There aren’t any problems.
What do you hope that the world outside of China gains from looking at your photography?
To understand the actual Beijing and China, and to feel that a new, better Chinese youth
I’ve noticed three themes in your photography: police, beggars, and common working people. Are
there any particular messages you’re trying to get across with your photography?
My photos are themeless. I just hope I can be as objective as possible, fully exhibiting the
Beijing that I see. Relatively speaking, I prefer to shoot young people and don’t pay as much
attention to older people.
Has your photography ever gotten you into any trouble?
Not so far, but I’m still pretty anxious, mainly over the problem of portraiture rights. I’m
well aware that many of my photos are relatively disrespectful to the subjects, but I have no
Are there any memorable stories behind any of your photos that you’d be willing to share?
Haha, I’m always very happy to show off to my friends the group of pictures of a fight I took
on the evening of July 15, 2002. At the time I was at KFC eating dinner, and saw them fighting
through the glass of the fast food chain window. I put down my half-eaten sandwich and went
right out to take pictures, first snapping through the glass, later running right up to them to
get shots until the police arrived.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
Get a digital camera and go seriously photograph what you most want to photograph until you’re
satisfied with the results.
–Wen Ling 7.19.2003
Interview published with Wen Ling’s permission, 2003. All photos are his.