Zhang trained at the Beijing Central Academy of Art & Design. After studying painting in China, he went to Italy, where he discovered graffiti art. He was the only graffiti artist in Beijing throughout the early 1990s, and is the first artist since Keith Haring and Jackson Pollock to be given the cover of Time magazine.
From 1995 to 1998 he spray-painted over 2000 giant profiles of his own bald head on buildings throughout Beijing, placing the images alongside chāi (拆) characters painted by the city authorities to indicate that a building is scheduled for demolition. The appearance of these images became the subject of media debate in Beijing in 1998.
He has shown work internationally in many exhibitions including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, International Center for Photography in New York, Les Rencontres d'Arles festival in France (2010), 18Gallery in Shanghai, Magda Danysz Gallery in Paris, Courtyard Gallery in Beijing, Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, the 2006 Gwangju Biennale in Korea and Pékin Fine Arts in Beijing. He is represented by Pékin Fine Arts in Beijing, Kiang Gallery in Atlanta, Eli Klein Fine Art in New York and Base Gallery in Tokyo
Zhang Dali has portrayed 100 immigrant workers in life-size resin sculptures of various postures, with a designated number, the artist's signature and the work's title "Chinese Offspring" tattooed onto each of their bodies. They are often hung upside down, indicating the uncertainty of their life and their powerlessness in changing their own fates. Zhang Dali's work actively engages with the rapidly changing environment in China. Zhang started working in portraiture as one of Beijing's first graffiti artists, spraying and carving heads into the walls of the hundreds of buildings scheduled for destruction. Working across a wide variety of media - from urban art, to archiving photographs of Mao, and large scale installations - Zhang's portraits document a contemporary social history of a culture in radical development and flux. Chinese Offspring is one of Zhang's best known works. Consisting of 15 cast resin figures suspended from the ceiling, each sculpture is a representation of a migrant construction worker, a vast underclass who contribute to the modernisation process at it most visible level. Since 2003, Zhang has made 100 of these effigies in tribute to their unsung heroism. Zhang's work not only champions the individual plights of these transient labourers, but also records one of the most important phenomena of new Chinese order: the growing schism between poverty and wealth. Zhang's figures are hung by their feet to denote their vulnerability and economic entrapment. Each bears a unique tattoo issuing them with an edition number, the Chinese Offspring project title, and the artist's signature of authentication - a normal practice in indexing art construed as a witty commentary on social engineering and population control
- Anne-Marie Broudehoux, The Making and Selling of Post-Mao Beijing, Routledge, 2004, pp221-2. ISBN 0-415-32057-7
- Wu Hung in Carol Appadurai Breckenridge, Cosmopolitanism, Duke University Press, 2002, p189. ISBN 0-8223-2899-2
- Zhang Dali Demolition & Dialogue [Paperback] published by Courtyard Gallery, Beijing. Editor: Meg Maggio, 1999
- Q & A: Zhang Dali interview, CNN, Dec 11, 2006
- Archive of Chinese Avant Garde Art, Cornell University
- Wu Hong, Zhang Dali's Dialogue: Conversation with a City in Public Culture - Vol.12, No.3, Fall 2000, pp. 749–768 accessed at  - subscription only