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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.
“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
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.
About the Author
Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s most important living artists. Born in 1957, he lives in Cambridge, UK.
Allan H. Barr is the author of a study in Chinese of a literary inquisition in the early Qing dynasty, Jiangnan yijie: Qing ren bixia de Zhuangshi shi’an 江南一劫：清人笔下的庄氏史案, and the translator of several books by contemporary Chinese authors, including Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words and Han Han’s This Generation. He teaches Chinese at Pomona College in California.
“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. He conjures the disparate phases and realities of China and explains how this country, which seems so changed from the outside, is consistent within. He is passionately committed to the cause of freedom and accountability, and though he is sometimes self-mocking and often witty, he has written a majestic and exquisitely serious masterpiece about his China, which is in fact a book about our world. 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
“Ai Weiwei’s 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows is an eloquent chronicle of the artist’s own tumultuous life—including his arrest and detention in 2011 by Chinese authorities—and that of his father, the eminent poet Ai Qing, who was banished to a remote labor camp during Mao’s Cultural Revolution; and a heartfelt letter to his young son, Ai Lao, explaining his convictions as an artist, activist, and witness to history. At the same time, the book provides a clear-eyed picture—reminiscent, by turns, of Kafka and Solzhenitsyn—of several decades of Chinese history and the terrible costs of authoritarian rule. 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. 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.”—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. For years, his art and activism have warned the world about autocracy. Now his prose lays bare, with haunting clarity, a family’s searing experience, and says as much about the future as it does about the past.”—Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
“One thousand years of joys and sorrows are here concentrated into a mere one hundred. They are years that teem with life of a startling variety. The presentation is artful and the translation exquisite.”—Perry Link, author of An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics
“[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
“Fluid, heartfelt . . . A beautiful and poignant memoir demonstrating perseverance and the power of art.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)