Helen Dalling Ling was born Helen Dalling on July 28, 1901 in Uhrichsville, Ohio, and grew up in Everett, Pennsylvania. Ling was an American collector, dealer, and connoisseur of Asian art and antiques.
In 1925, Ling attended an American Baptist Foreign Mission picnic where she met Tien-Gi (Ti-Gi) Ling, a Chinese research chemist who was studying for his master's and subsquent doctorate in industrial chemistry from Brown University and Cornell University, respectively. Ling traveled to Shanghai by herself in 1928 to see if she could live in China, as marrying Ti-Gi would strip her of her American citizenship. Content in Shanghai, she and Ti-Gi married several months after her arrival in the spring of 1928.
The pair lived throughout South China, Hong Kong, and Singapore where she held various positions including as an English teacher and secretary. The couple had one son, James G. Ling, in 1930. Ling became interested in antiques prior to moving abroad, and eventually opened an antique shop in Shanghai in 1938 called the Green Dragon. When the Lings moved to Singapore in 1951 after escaping the Communists in Shanghai, Helen Ling opened another shop under her own name which she operated until her death on May 15th, 1982. Ling was very active in the field of Southeast Asian art, regularly giving lectures and was regularly featured in publications on her expertise in Asian art. She co-founded and served as the first president of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, Singapore in 1971. Ling was thrust onto the global stage when her friend, Jim Thompson, co-founder of Thai Silk Company Limited disappeared while visiting her and Ti-Gi at there home, Moonlight in 1967. Thirty-four Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery collection items were once part of Ling's personal collection, and were either sold or donated to the museum after her death by her family.