1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir - book cover
  • Publisher : Crown
  • Published : 02 Nov 2021
  • Pages : 400
  • ISBN-10 : 0553419463
  • ISBN-13 : 9780553419467
  • Language : English

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS' CHOICE • In Ai Weiwei's widely anticipated memoir, "one of the most important artists working in the world today" (Financial Times) tells a century-long epic tale of China through the story of his own extraordinary life and the legacy of his father, the nation's most celebrated poet.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Time BookPage Kirkus Reviews "With uncommon humanity, humbling scholarship, and poignant intimacy, Ai Weiwei recounts a life of courage, argument, defeat, and triumph. His is one of the great voices of our time."-Andrew Solomon

Hailed as "an eloquent and seemingly unsilenceable voice of freedom" by The New York Times, Ai Weiwei has written a sweeping memoir that presents a remarkable history of China over the last hundred years while also illuminating his artistic process.

Once an intimate of Mao Zedong and the nation's most celebrated poet, Ai Weiwei's father, Ai Qing, was branded a rightist during the Cultural Revolution, and he and his family were banished to a desolate place known as "Little Siberia," where Ai Qing was sentenced to hard labor cleaning public toilets. Ai Weiwei recounts his childhood in exile, and his difficult decision to leave his family to study art in America, where he befriended Allen Ginsberg and was inspired by Andy Warhol. With candor and wit, he details his return to China and his rise from artistic unknown to art world superstar and international human rights activist-and how his work has been shaped by living under a totalitarian regime.

Ai Weiwei's sculptures and installations have been viewed by millions around the globe, and his architectural achievements include helping to design the iconic Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing. His political activism has long made him a target of the Chinese authorities, which culminated in months of secret detention without charge in 2011. Here, for the first time, Ai Weiwei explores the origins of his exceptional creativity and passionate political beliefs through his life story and that of his father, whose creativity was stifled.

At once ambitious and intimate, Ai Weiwei's 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows offers a deep understanding of the myriad forces that have shaped modern China, and serves as a timely reminder of the urgent need to protect freedom of expression.

Editorial Reviews

"[This memoir] is both intimate and expansive, an interrogation of art and freedom. . . . It's a fascinating sociopolitical history, and a behind-the-scenes look at how one of the world's most significant living artists became who he is."-Time

"1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows can be seen as another act of defiance. . . . The book [is Ai Weiwei's] effort to reclaim his country's and his family's dramatic past."-The Wall Street Journal Magazine
"Illuminating . . .a document of conviction and activism . . . a clear-eyed account of two artists working against convention, buffeted by the whims of absurdist politics."-San Francisco Chronicle
"Poignant . . . An illuminating through-line emerges in the many parallels Ai traces between his life and his father's. . . . Ai does not allow his own scraps to remain buried. To unearth them is an act of unburdening, an open letter to progeny, a suturing of past and present. It is the refusal to be a pawn-and the most potent assertion of a self."-The New York Times Book Review

"This memoir is a remarkable book-and an important one. . . . 1000 Years is a breathtaking self-examination of a brave artist."-Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Ai Weiwei is one of the world's greatest living artists. He is a master of multiple media. His work is always thought-provoking, unpredictable, and immensely personal."-Elton John, author of Me

"With uncommon humanity, humbling scholarship, and poignant intimacy, Ai Weiwei recounts a life of courage, argument, defeat, and triumph. His is one of the great voices of our time."-Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity and Far and Away: How Travel Can Change the World

"Like the author's brilliant installations and films, the book is an impassioned testament to the enduring powers of art-to challenge the state and the status quo, to affirm essential and inconvenient truths, and to assert the indispensable agency of imagination and will in the face of political repression."-Michiko Kakutani, author of Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread

"This is the rarest sort of memoir, rising above the arc of history to grasp at the limits of the soul."-Edward Snowden, author of Permanent Record

"Ai Weiwei's intimate, unflinching memoir is an instant classic in the literature of China's rise, a protest against the destruction of memory, and a glorious testament to the power of free expression."-Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China


Readers Top Reviews

Captivating account and a breathtaking lifelong demonstration of loyalty to expression of thought; recommended for everyone to put one‘s own suffering into perspective.Insight into China‘s internal mechanism of silencing its citizens- past and present- latest case Pen Shuai
A very compelling book if you are familiar with au Wei Wei
Stuart L. Klein
Truly a hero of our time! Ai Weiwei is a true human of our time. Sticks to his ideals regardless of the challenges placed before him. Saw his installation at Alcatraz prison in 2014 and now I own a pair of his middle finger Covid masks. Thank you for all you do Ai Weiwei!
Joel Hammer
The author is a contemporary Chinese modern artist, social activist, and influencer. His story is relevant to our times. This book is really three parts in one, mixed together as befits his modern tastes in art. One part is a biography of his father. A second part is his life growing up during the Cultural Revolution. The third part is about his life as an adult and how he came to be an artist and a social activist in China. His father was a well known poet and artist in China prior to their Civil War. Like many artistic types, he threw in his lot with the Communists, who painted a picture of utopian bliss. After the success of Mao, who became China's dictator, all arts were to be subordinated to the needs of the state. His father, and many other artists, refused to bend completely to the state's demands. So, like many others, he was banished to some remote village and given the worst jobs and living quarters in the commune. He was the constant object of their Hate Sessions, which were a monthly occurrence even in this remote village. The Revolution always needed enemies, and if they did not exist, they would be manufactured. At the end, his job was cleaning the latrines (dirt pits) and they lived in a dirt dugout. He survived only because he had powerful protectors, and, although his living conditions were abysmal, they were never outright lethal, and he survived. The author shared all these hardships with him as a young boy. This experience obviously had a profound effect on him. The human aspects of his father's life are highly interesting. Artists, you know. Due to his upbringing, the author felt complete alienation from Chinese culture and the government. Read the book for details. Anyhow, with Mao's death people got rehabilitated, including the author's father. The author was at this point under the spell of art itself (just like his father) and hated the idea of getting an education and a job. He got a visa to live in the USA, overstayed it by 10 years, and lived in NYC, where he worked on his art and English. He knew Andy Warhol. Finding little success and little personal satisfaction, he returned to China. He freely admits his lack of success in America was due to his own actions. He was just living in the moment, and never thought about his future. Back in China, his family, now relatively properous, took him back in and supported him, and completely let him seek his own path. He decided on "modern" art and social activism. You can read about him more on wikipedia if you want. He was very successful now, and by being a Chinese artist working in China, Westerners took his work much more seriously. Go figure. He made a lot of money. BTW, he despises the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. He started blogging about social issues, and made multiple documentaries about problems in China (mostly related to ...

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter One

Pellucid Night

Boisterous laughter erupts along the path

A bunch of boozers stumble out of the sleeping village

Clatter their way toward the sleeping fields

On this night, this pellucid night

-Lines from "Pellucid Night," written by my father in a Shanghai prison in 1932

I was born in 1957, eight years after the founding of the "New China." My father was forty-seven. When I was growing up, my father rarely talked about the past, because everything was shrouded in the thick fog of the dominant political narrative, and any inquiry into fact ran the risk of provoking a backlash too awful to contemplate. In satisfying the demands of the new order, the Chinese people suffered a withering of spiritual life and lost the ability to tell things as they had truly occurred.

It was half a century before I began to reflect on this. On April 3, 2011, as I was about to fly out of Beijing's Capital Airport, a swarm of plainclothes police descended on me, and for the next eighty-one days I disappeared into a black hole. During my confinement I began to reflect on the past: I thought of my father, in particular, and tried to imagine what life had been like for him behind the bars of a Nationalist prison eighty years earlier. I realized I knew very little about his ordeal, and I had never taken an active interest in his experiences. In the era in which I grew up, ideological indoctrination exposed us to an intense, invasive light that made our memories vanish like shadows. Memories were a burden, and it was best to be done with them; soon people lost not only the will but the power to remember. When yesterday, today, and tomorrow merge into an indistinguishable blur, memory-apart from being potentially dangerous-has very little meaning at all.

Many of my earliest memories are fractured. When I was a young boy, the world to me was a split screen. On one side, U.S. imperialists strutted around in tuxedos and top hats, walking sticks in hand, trailed by their running dogs: the British, French, Germans, Italians, and Japanese, along with the Kuomintang reactionaries entrenched on Taiwan. On the other side stood Mao Zedong and the sunflowers flanking him-that's to say: the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, seeking independence and liberation from colonialism and imperialism; it was we who represented the light and the future. In propaganda pictures, the Vietnamese leader, "Grandpa" Ho Chi Minh, was accompanied by fearless young Vietnamese in bamboo hats, their guns trained on the U.S. warplanes in the sky above. Every day we were treated to heroic stories of their victories over the Yankee bandits. An unbridgeable gulf existed between the two sides.

In that information-deprived era, personal choice was like floating duckweed, rootless and insubstantial. Denied the nourishment of individual interests and attachments, memory, wrung out to dry, ruptured and crumbled: "The proletariat has to liberate all of humanity before it can liberate itself," the saying went. After all the convulsions that China had experienced, genuine emotions and personal memory were reduced to tiny scraps and easily replaced by the discourse of struggle and continuous revolution.

The good thing is that my father was a writer. In poetry he recorded feelings that had lodged deep in his heart, even if those little streams of honesty and candor had no natural outlet on those many occasions when political floods carried all before them. Today, all I can do is pick up the scattered fragments left after the storm and try to piece together a picture, however incomplete it may be.

The year I was born, Mao Zedong unleashed a political storm-the Anti-Rightist Campaign, designed to purge "rightist" intellectuals who had criticized the government. The whirlpool that swallowed up my father upended my life too, leaving a mark on me that I carry to this day. As a leading "rightist" among Chinese writers, my father was exiled and forced to undergo "reform through labor," bringing to an abrupt end the relatively comfortable life that he had enjoyed after the establishment of the new regime in 1949. Expelled at first to the icy wilderness of the far northeast, we were later transferred to the town of Shihezi, at the foot of Xinjiang's Tian Shan mountain range. Like a little boat finding refuge in a typhoon, we sheltered there until the political winds shifted direction again.

Then, in 1967, Mao's "Cultural Revolution" entered a new stage, and my father, now seen as a purveyor of bourgeois literature and art, was once again placed on the blacklist of ideological targets, along with other Trotskyists, apostates, and anti-party elements. I was about to turn ten, and the events that followed have stayed w...