The year was 2001, and a curious Beijing native called Wen Ling, was eager to discover more about the world outside China. With not enough money to travel and only poor middle school English, he decided to log onto the Internet to find out more about what life was like in the United States.
There was lots of information but most of it was in English. With little knowledge of the language, Wen felt depressed until he logged onto a site about New York's Brooklyn where there were only photos. Here Wen could see the kitchen of an ordinary family in the United States, what they ate for breakfast and the view from their garden gate. For the first time, he had seen pictures of ordinary people's lives abroad.
Wen was moved. From then on he kept a close eye on the website, which turned out to be run by David F. Gallagher, a journalist who is believed to be the first to use the term "web log" in an article on December 28, 2000.
A month later, Wen was still so thrilled that he was compelled to build a portal into the lives of everyday Beijing folk. His photoblog, www.ziboy.com, is an online journal of photographs he takes in and around Beijing.
No one can tell if this was the first photoblog created by a Chinese national, but this hasn't stopped it from becoming the most visited by surfers from around the globe.
Wen set up ziboy in September 2001 with just a computer and a digital camera. When he posted the first collection of photos on the site, he sent an email to Gallagher who immediately put ziboy's link on his website with the excited exclamation: "Come on look, here are photos from China!"
Overnight, dozens of photoblogs from across the world provided the link to ziboy. Some major websites and portals soon followed.
Today, Google yields around 70,200 results for ziboy.
Over the past four years, Wen has regularly updated ziboy with photos of people living their lives in Beijing: young women eating noodles, bored security guards and even protest marches.
Wen takes his camera with him wherever he goes. In his snapshot prime he was collecting about 500 photos a week and posting his favorites onto his website.
"My photos have no theme, but they are not nonsense," stressed Wen. "Photoblogging is photographing, but it is also data basing. A single photo may reflect only a small fraction of Beijing. But when there are a dozen, a hundred or a thousand of them, you begin to build up a picture of the city. I just hope I can be as objective as possible."
For many who have been in Beijing a while, the photos might be too ordinary to give a second look, but for those overseas who have never visited China, ziboy is a fascinating eye viewing the faces, places and scenes of China's dynamic capital.
Ziboy receives hundreds of hits everyday. Some people comment on his photos or send emails, expressing their gratitude, like Tom from Switzerland:
"Your photos are amazing. I have never been to China but in my opinion, you're capturing very personal and common moments in a special way. Pictures like yours will help bring your country and people closer to us."
Wen admits that these positive responses have encouraged him. "They assure me that what I am doing is worthwhile and give me a strong sense of achievement by providing them with a gateway to understanding the real Beijing and China, showing the world that a new Chinese youth already exists," he said.
But Wen's greatest joy comes when he receives the address of a newly created photoblog.
"I am as keen to see the rest of the world as I am to present them the actual Beijing through ziboy," Wen enthused. "What better reward can there be than for them to show me their culture and hometowns via their own photoblogs?"
Wen's efforts have inspired an ever-growing blogging community in Beijing and gained him a close circle of blogger friends, both domestically and abroad. Most of their blogs have adopted the concept of ziboy.
Wen believes there is still huge potential for photblogging. "I have this strong belief that it is going to become a massive worldwide phenomenon, because of the medium's unrivalled ability for factual documentation that crosses the language barrier."
But the 29 year old is still amazed at its rapid growth up to now. "Photoblogging is exploding, even here in China."
Over the past two years, Wen has received so many addresses of photoblogs about China that he has set up another website specially providing links to them. The website, www.photoblogchina.com, now provides access to more than 200 photoblogs.
"The number of Photoblogs is still increasing," said Wen. "Soon the rest of the world will be able to see the whole of China at home, it is only a click away, and it seems that now I don't even have to pick up my middle school English," grinned the cheeky blogger.
(China Daily January 12, 2006)