Reviews of 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows

A Memoir

by Ai Weiwei

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei X
1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2021, 400 pages

    Sep 2022, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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About this Book

Book Summary

In his 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.

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, 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.

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 ...

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We come to find that this book was born from Ai Weiwei's illegal detention and restriction of movement in 2011. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the real crime is his voice. As his life has represented an evolution of artistic and human expression, it was perhaps inevitable that it would become politicized. Upon experiencing this fundamental truth about the nature of individual expression against a larger collective that seeks to maintain a status quo, Ai Weiwei comes to realize that his struggle is not unique or singular. Instead, it was foreshadowed by his father's endeavors a lifetime ago, and will likely be echoed by his son and many others to come...continued

Full Review (803 words).

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(Reviewed by Jennifer Hon Khalaf).

Media Reviews

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

The New York Times Book Review
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.

[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.

San Francisco Chronicle
Illuminating ...a document of conviction and activism ... a clear-eyed account of two artists working against convention, buffeted by the whims of absurdist politics.

The Wall Street Journal Magazine
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.

Booklist (starred review)
Revelatory and moving...Ai Weiwei's historically precise, generously candid, and deeply delving chronicle is clarion testimony to how intrinsic art is to human nature and to defining and protecting human rights.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The artist and social activist explores his father's turbulent relationship with the early Communist regime and his own struggle for creative freedom...the author maintains a fluid, heartfelt narrative. A beautiful and poignant memoir demonstrating perseverance and the power of art.

Library Journal (starred review)
Engrossing...Ai creates a vivid portrait of two generations grappling with their place in the Chinese cultural and political landscape, and gives readers a glimpse of his approach to art and the creative process. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Edward Snowden, author of Permanent Record
This is the rarest sort of memoir, rising above the arc of history to grasp at the limits of the soul. Ai's work is a remarkable testament to the eternal power of the simple, daring truth, underlining that an artist without the courage to speak it is merely a decorator—and a citizen without it is a subject.

Author Blurb Elton John, author of Me
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.

Author Blurb Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
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.

Author Blurb Michiko Kakutani, author of Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
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.

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The Art and Political Imprisonment of Ai Weiwei

Poster featuring a photo of Ai Weiwei and the words Free WeiweiAi Weiwei is an influential creator, whose career has given rise to a great variety of works in many mediums. Accordingly, describing him merely as an artist does not do him justice, as he wears many hats, being a visual artist, architect, documentarian and writer. Ultimately, all of his work is underpinned with a strong thread of political activism, focusing primarily on the right of free expression in the Chinese cultural context.

Ai Weiwei started off as a conceptual modern artist, moving to the U.S. in 1981 and studying briefly at Parsons School of Design in New York City, where he was heavily influenced by Dadaism. He returned to China in 1993, where he continued developing his artistic style. Though some of his works were meant to ...

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