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1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir

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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. "With uncommon humanity, humbling scholarship, and poignant intimacy, Ai Weiwei recounts a life of 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. "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.


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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. "With uncommon humanity, humbling scholarship, and poignant intimacy, Ai Weiwei recounts a life of 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. "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.

30 review for 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    (Andy Warhol & Ai Weiwei Exhibition-35, photo by Russell Charters)  "With art I opened up a space that was new to me, an abandoned space infested with weeds, in wild and desolate ruin.... it offered the prospect of self-redemption and a path toward detachment and escape." In 2016, my partner and I visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. There was an exhibition by the artist Ai Weiwei, someone I hadn't previously heard of. I was captivated by his work and wanted to know more about him. I read (Andy Warhol & Ai Weiwei Exhibition-35, photo by Russell Charters)  "With art I opened up a space that was new to me, an abandoned space infested with weeds, in wild and desolate ruin.... it offered the prospect of self-redemption and a path toward detachment and escape." In 2016, my partner and I visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. There was an exhibition by the artist Ai Weiwei, someone I hadn't previously heard of. I was captivated by his work and wanted to know more about him. I read a couple books and watched some of his documentaries. The more I learned the more intrigued -and impressed- I became. He quickly became my favourite living artist.  Ai Weiwei's early years were spent in "Little Siberia", where his poet father had been sent by the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution. He was sentenced to hard labor and his son was punished along with him. He endured many hardships and in spite of, or because of, that Ai Weiwei became an activist, using his art to speak for the rights of people. His courage and compassion are tantamount to his artistic genius.  100 Years of Joys and Sorrows is his memoir, beginning with his early life in that hard labor camp. The first part of the book felt disjointed and detached, as though he were writing about someone and something that was foreign to him. He writes, "I felt no attachment to my memories. My memories didn’t belong to me" and that is apparent.  The little he wrote about himself and his early years is entwined with details of his father's life. It jumped around... he would write a tiny bit about his child self and I got the sense it was too uncomfortable, perhaps too painful, for him to write about so he would quickly shift to writing about his father instead. However, after the first one hundred pages or so, this all changed and I could feel the person writing, could feel that he felt what he was writing. And I was enthralled. I loved learning more about his life and the inspiration behind many of his works. No matter how the Chinese government tries to suppress him, Ai Weiwei never fails to speak up and to use his work to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves. He was under constant surveillance, kept in a secret prison for a time, was under house arrest for five years, and now lives in exile in Portugal. But no matter their efforts, the Chinese government was unable to silence him. 100 Years of Joys and Sorrows is a memoir worth reading, and Ai Weiwei is a man worth admiring and emulating. If you aren't familiar with his work, I urge you to Google him.... and read this wonderful book. It is powerful and interesting, a unique blend of historical fact, memoir, and philosophical thoughts. "I am no admirer of order—whether order appears in Eastern or Western guise, it always triggers suspicion in me. I dislike the constraints on human nature and the restrictions on choice that order imposes."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Audiobook…read by David Shih ….13 hours and 7 minutes I appreciated learning about Ai Weiwei ….(born in 1957 in Beijing), the Chinese contemporary artist… …. Architect, activist, sound producer, film directors, visual artist…. I honesty never knew a thing about him until this book…. his artwork, his artistic influences, his childhood in exile with his father — the son of a poet - history about his father - [a year in Paris] - the cultural revolution before- during - and after - The political histor Audiobook…read by David Shih ….13 hours and 7 minutes I appreciated learning about Ai Weiwei ….(born in 1957 in Beijing), the Chinese contemporary artist… …. Architect, activist, sound producer, film directors, visual artist…. I honesty never knew a thing about him until this book…. his artwork, his artistic influences, his childhood in exile with his father — the son of a poet - history about his father - [a year in Paris] - the cultural revolution before- during - and after - The political history — Ai’s social activism - his nitty-gritty family background stories — his marriages — his son - his career development- living in New York - his return to China - imprisonment- and his reflections on freedom. Ai Weiwei is a humanitarian powerhouse…. …. a global citizen, Artist and thinker!! I read up more on Wikipedia— (fabulous artwork; sculptural installations, architectural projects, photographs, and videos)…. and enjoyed a YouTube interview. Although the audiobook reader - for ‘this’ book: “1000 Years of Joy and Sorrows”, was excellent … at times ‘listening’ to it became daunting — for one reason or another - and I started to become indifferent… That said….it got me thinking about the years in Chinese cultural and political history- kidnappings- refugees- ‘sorrow & joy’ combinations in any one man’s lifetime … And the discovery of some magnificent artwork. Today… Ai Weiwei lives in Portugal. He Maintains a base in Cambridge, Rivers son attends school and a studio in Berlin. He says she will stay in Portugal long-term “unless something happens”.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    [3.4] I am grateful to this book for bringing Ai Weiwei's art and activism to my attention. After reading it, I browsed through photos of his many installations, creations and "destructions". I also listened to a fascinating podcast of him talking about his art and feelings about China. Next, I plan on watching some of his documentaries. Unfortunately, his writing is devoid of the passion found in his art. I found the book to be a fairly dry reportage of his life, without much introspection or e [3.4] I am grateful to this book for bringing Ai Weiwei's art and activism to my attention. After reading it, I browsed through photos of his many installations, creations and "destructions". I also listened to a fascinating podcast of him talking about his art and feelings about China. Next, I plan on watching some of his documentaries. Unfortunately, his writing is devoid of the passion found in his art. I found the book to be a fairly dry reportage of his life, without much introspection or emotion. He is very reticent about his personal life. The beginning of the book, which focuses on his childhood, banished with his poet father to a remote outpost called Little Siberia, is the most compelling.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sahitya

    I love going to museums but I’m not very knowledgeable about art, and particularly ignorant about modern art. So, when I first saw this memoir, I was intrigued because I wanted to know more about this person’s story but I didn’t know who he was. However, I was eager to get to know him. This is a memoir I can’t review. Written for his son, Ai Weiwei documents both his father’s and his life in this book and as much as it’s about these two people, it’s also about living under an authoritarian regim I love going to museums but I’m not very knowledgeable about art, and particularly ignorant about modern art. So, when I first saw this memoir, I was intrigued because I wanted to know more about this person’s story but I didn’t know who he was. However, I was eager to get to know him. This is a memoir I can’t review. Written for his son, Ai Weiwei documents both his father’s and his life in this book and as much as it’s about these two people, it’s also about living under an authoritarian regime which doesn’t believe in freedom of expression. And in such a place, even the existence of the father-son duo and many other such artist activists is a spark that might ignite a fire one day. Their life story might feel bleak, especially his father’s life who was wrongfully convicted and exiled for years on end during the cultural revolution, but this is also the story of a family which resiliently survived the oppression and never let go of their artistic expression or principles. It’s both a sad and awe inspiring memoir and I felt small and insignificant after getting to know such artists. The writing itself may feel detached and dry but I think it reflects the author’s own feelings about his life and purpose. But all the art interspersed within the text is fascinating and I can’t wait to read up more about his installations as well as about his father’s poetry.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Outspoken artist and international human-rights icon Ai Weiwei here chillingly documents--originally as a record for his young son, and subsequently for all the rest of us--the brutal life of privation and repression he experienced growing into manhood in remote China before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution as the son of a prominent poet, one of many thousands of wrongfully imprisoned political prisoners. Years later, when he himself is taken into custody for 81 angst-ridden days by Ch Outspoken artist and international human-rights icon Ai Weiwei here chillingly documents--originally as a record for his young son, and subsequently for all the rest of us--the brutal life of privation and repression he experienced growing into manhood in remote China before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution as the son of a prominent poet, one of many thousands of wrongfully imprisoned political prisoners. Years later, when he himself is taken into custody for 81 angst-ridden days by Chinese authorities who do not respect his provocative politically-charged public art and social media posts, Ai feels a renewed closeness with his now-deceased father: both men of principle, courage, and conviction under extreme and protracted pressure. Throughout his life, Ai has sacrificed almost every creature comfort and stability in pursuit of his artistic freedom (and the right of others to enjoy the same) against overwhelming odds, enduring a fallen-apart marriage, an art studio bulldozed before his eyes, hostile 24/7 surveillance by Chinese police and state, and much more. Through it all, his wit, his optimism, and his playful vision of art as meaningful expression remain unstoppable. Luckily for us, after a nail-biting exit from his native land, Ai is today writing and creating his thought-provoking art installations from a new home, safe in Europe. As a bonus, Ai's memoir is replete with his own sketches of scenes and artworks which played a pivotal role throughout his development as artist and human-rights advocate. Thought-provoking, meaningful, very deftly told.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    First off, let me say how much I like Ai's work. Very provocative and thought provoking pieces. Now, for the book. This was a good read. An interesting memoir and had some touching moments. That being said, it was not as shocking or activist as I thought it was going to be. Still a great memoir. Some pretty fascinating and eye opening moments too. 3.8/5 First off, let me say how much I like Ai's work. Very provocative and thought provoking pieces. Now, for the book. This was a good read. An interesting memoir and had some touching moments. That being said, it was not as shocking or activist as I thought it was going to be. Still a great memoir. Some pretty fascinating and eye opening moments too. 3.8/5

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Rubenstein

    My recent deep dive of Ai Wei Wei includes this riveting memoir, his Rapture show in Lisbon, and his many documentaries, some by him and some about him. I know I’m not alone when I say Ai Wei Wei is one of the most important artists / activists of our time, and I deeply appreciate his and his family’s sacrifices that make this world a better place.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    It was a great choice for a 100th book this year. Short history of the recent Century in China plus the personal carrer choices of named artist. I knew his work as a documentarian, but the rest not so much. Definitely recommend!!!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shelby Thompson

    This is the type of book I can see Timothée Chalamet (NYU Chalemet, not Dune Chalemet. People can change) reading on the subway while making little notes in the margins about the necessity of sacrificing ones’ self for artistic expression, while literally attending NYU. The bastion of self-expression. To be fair, Al Weiwei was constructing his artistic identity in communist China, not the Ivy Towers of the American education system, but his writing contains the same thinly-veiled elitism. Which This is the type of book I can see Timothée Chalamet (NYU Chalemet, not Dune Chalemet. People can change) reading on the subway while making little notes in the margins about the necessity of sacrificing ones’ self for artistic expression, while literally attending NYU. The bastion of self-expression. To be fair, Al Weiwei was constructing his artistic identity in communist China, not the Ivy Towers of the American education system, but his writing contains the same thinly-veiled elitism. Which sucks, because his writing is beautiful. His memoir tracks the parallel events of his father’s life (a famous Chinese poet who was exiled to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution), and his own clashes with authority, which culminated in his 3-month detention in 2011. The two different stories are supposed to highlight how the memory of government oppression in China has continued ripple effects across generations. Instead, I found myself comparing the two stories, and found that the story of his father held far more emotion and self-awareness than that of his own. Weiwei writes in a detached style, which works when he’s writing about a man who withheld many of his emotions and troubled thoughts from his family, and instead poured them into his devotion to his art and his country. But when talking about his own life, I got the sense that he’s never really examined his personal choices or the impact that he has had on the people around them. He briefly mentions friends, colleagues, lovers, and then rushes on from them (both figuratively and literally. Both Weiwei and his father seem to have played fast and loose with romantic fidelity). He is so filled with scorn for his fellow country-men and their sheep-like tendencies, but doesn’t question the fact that both he and his father were able to fuel much of their artistic livelihoods through loans from their family and the unwavering financial and domestic support of their wives and international friends. This could be a cool book if it were trimmed down and focused in more on the history of China’s oppression of the arts – if that sounds interesting to you, then you can just read the first half of the book which focuses on his father, and skip the rest.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kea4

    You might know him for creating the “Bird’s Nest” which is the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics. As for this book talking about life in the camps in China was very eye-opening and interesting. But I found this book did bounce around a little too much. So much so I could not get a handle on his entire family. It kept going back and forth between him and his father. Sadly most editors now seem to turn a blind eye to these last two issues in the book: Explaining how Chairman Mao w You might know him for creating the “Bird’s Nest” which is the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics. As for this book talking about life in the camps in China was very eye-opening and interesting. But I found this book did bounce around a little too much. So much so I could not get a handle on his entire family. It kept going back and forth between him and his father. Sadly most editors now seem to turn a blind eye to these last two issues in the book: Explaining how Chairman Mao would talk/write to his followers is fine but dumbing down your audience and trying to compare this to Trump’s late-night tweets is just stupid and an insult to the reader. (page 11) Also on page 366, the author claims that in most European countries that migrants receive no assistance is incorrect. If I have two items already that are false how can I take the rest of the book seriously? https://theworldisabookandiamitsreade...

  11. 4 out of 5

    William Pike

    A fascinating portrait of an artist that illuminates China's repressive history over the last 80 years. Ai Weiwei's father was a famous poet (friend of Neruda etc.) but was also at Yunnan with the Red Army in the 1940s and knew Mao Tse-Tung, Xi Jinping's father, Chou Enlai, and many other prominent figures. Despite that he was sent into exile as a 'rightist' during the Cultural Revolution because he insisted on artistic freedom of expression rather than simply being a 'worker artist'. So Ai Weiw A fascinating portrait of an artist that illuminates China's repressive history over the last 80 years. Ai Weiwei's father was a famous poet (friend of Neruda etc.) but was also at Yunnan with the Red Army in the 1940s and knew Mao Tse-Tung, Xi Jinping's father, Chou Enlai, and many other prominent figures. Despite that he was sent into exile as a 'rightist' during the Cultural Revolution because he insisted on artistic freedom of expression rather than simply being a 'worker artist'. So Ai Weiwei was some kind of 'princeling'. This book is more about Ai Weiwei's social activism rather than his art, although he has illustrated it with many lovely line drawings. Inspired by Act Up and other activists in New York where he lived in the early 1990's (making money drawing portraits in Times Square), he went back to China and became a situationist-type radical. The state did not know how to handle him because his activism was not obviously directed against the state, rather it sought to ridicule repression and make fun of it. When he was under surveillance, he hung red lanterns under every CCTV camera in his street. The first half of the book is about his father's exile during the Cultural Revolution, which Ai Weiwei spent with him. The second half depicts his long struggle with the Chinese state and his secret detention and daily interrogation.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian Yu

    -While a lot of other reviews touched on Ai Wei Wei's time in exile with his father, I don't agree with it being the most compelling part of the book - we get it shovelling poo sucks and shovelling frozen poo sucks even more -His first hand accounts of living as an immigrant, his experience in solitary confinement, and his shrewd ways of creating art while fighting injustice made for a very enjoyable, varied read -I find it very touching that this book came about after reflection on his strained r -While a lot of other reviews touched on Ai Wei Wei's time in exile with his father, I don't agree with it being the most compelling part of the book - we get it shovelling poo sucks and shovelling frozen poo sucks even more -His first hand accounts of living as an immigrant, his experience in solitary confinement, and his shrewd ways of creating art while fighting injustice made for a very enjoyable, varied read -I find it very touching that this book came about after reflection on his strained relationship with his own father. Further complicated by state censorship of both individuals, the act of writing a well researched memoir of both their hardships/experiences for his son's understanding is powerful form of reconciliation -Getting a personal explanation on the thought processes behind the development/evolution of his installations is very enlightening - but perhaps some of the intrigue/mystery/magic behind contemporary art is lost when attributed to storylines and reason. The little drawings and his crass, tongue in cheek sense of humour was also really great (grass mud horse lol) -Honestly astonishing how Ai Lao is so poignant at the age of like 10... take a look at this list of interview questions he posed: https://www.documentjournal.com/2020/... -Prob my fave book of 2021, would love to see his next exhibition or see some of his documentaries, I should brush up on my mando lol

  13. 4 out of 5

    Seb Swann

    “Self-expression is central to human existence. Without the sound of human voices, without warmth and color in our lives, without attentive glances, Earth is just an insensate rock suspended in space.” If you like memoirs about dissident artists; Ai Weiwei’s story is powerful, his wisdom is thought-provoking and resolute, and his voice is deeply needed, especially at a time when authoritarianism is on the rise around the world and advocates for the disenfranchised, the displaced, and the persecut “Self-expression is central to human existence. Without the sound of human voices, without warmth and color in our lives, without attentive glances, Earth is just an insensate rock suspended in space.” If you like memoirs about dissident artists; Ai Weiwei’s story is powerful, his wisdom is thought-provoking and resolute, and his voice is deeply needed, especially at a time when authoritarianism is on the rise around the world and advocates for the disenfranchised, the displaced, and the persecuted are needed most.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Ai Weiwei is one of the more important thinkers of the present. There are moments when the translation feels somewhat poor but the message holds. Wonderful insights into his mind and way of processing the world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne

    Review upcoming...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    BBC Radio Book of the Week: really interesting information on a troubled life and time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    A lesson in human rights told by a multigenerational point of view through art. Ai Wei Wei tells his story of bravery against oppressive regimes.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marna Tisdel

    Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei writes about his and his father's life. His father was a poet who was in and out of favor with the powers that be. They lived in caves on farms. His father cleaned latrines. Ai Weiwei has become a well-known artist and activist. Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei writes about his and his father's life. His father was a poet who was in and out of favor with the powers that be. They lived in caves on farms. His father cleaned latrines. Ai Weiwei has become a well-known artist and activist.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David V.

    Received as an ARC from my employer Barnes & Noble. Started 10-7-21. Finished 10-14-21. Wonderfully written story of the author's father's life as a reknown poet in China, and the author's life as a writer, photographer and artist in China. Author's name is pronounced "eye way-way." Both man were arrested and jailed for being outspoken critics of the Chinese government--80 years apart!!! They loved their country but not the autocratic, vengeful leaders who stifled free expression of their citize Received as an ARC from my employer Barnes & Noble. Started 10-7-21. Finished 10-14-21. Wonderfully written story of the author's father's life as a reknown poet in China, and the author's life as a writer, photographer and artist in China. Author's name is pronounced "eye way-way." Both man were arrested and jailed for being outspoken critics of the Chinese government--80 years apart!!! They loved their country but not the autocratic, vengeful leaders who stifled free expression of their citizens and arrested and even executed many on false charges without benefit of a defense or even a hearing. Ai Weiwei's art is exhibited all over the world but rarely in his native country but he continues being a "thorn in their side." Along the way of these men's lives, the reader learns the history of China and its numerous leaders.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Paul

    DNF - I gave this a good go and gave up at about 40% through the book. I found this very difficult to read due to a combination of factors; the telling is not chronological - there are points when you jump back and forward between Ai Weiwei being a small boy to before he was born making it difficult to follow. The translation didn’t lend itself to immersive reading and I found myself tripping over and rereading sentences. Ai Weiwei and his family suffered immensely and I just wasn't in the right DNF - I gave this a good go and gave up at about 40% through the book. I found this very difficult to read due to a combination of factors; the telling is not chronological - there are points when you jump back and forward between Ai Weiwei being a small boy to before he was born making it difficult to follow. The translation didn’t lend itself to immersive reading and I found myself tripping over and rereading sentences. Ai Weiwei and his family suffered immensely and I just wasn't in the right place to read about starvation, death and destruction. I may come back to it, but it's unlikely. If you did want to learn more about modern Chinese history I’d recommend Wild Swans by Jung Chang which is one of my very few five star reads.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Crowe

    An astonishing memoir of a Chinese artist who reveals the tumultuous life he and his father and family experienced under communist rule. Very poignant and insightful! Weiwei now lives in Europe.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Farmer

    What an interesting person and book. I can't remember when I became aware of Ai Weiwei, but I knew enough about him to watch the 2012 documentary "Never Sorry." I've followed him on Instagram for a few years. The little I know is that his art is only a piece of his general activism for individual and political freedom, not just in China, but globally. This memoir shows the reader the origins of gadfly Ai Weiwei. They go back to his father. Indeed the first third of the book recounts the rise and What an interesting person and book. I can't remember when I became aware of Ai Weiwei, but I knew enough about him to watch the 2012 documentary "Never Sorry." I've followed him on Instagram for a few years. The little I know is that his art is only a piece of his general activism for individual and political freedom, not just in China, but globally. This memoir shows the reader the origins of gadfly Ai Weiwei. They go back to his father. Indeed the first third of the book recounts the rise and fall of Ai Qing, patriotic poet and darling of the early CCP leadership whose fall from grace landed him and a young Ai Weiwei on a work farm in the country's far west. This part of the book was an education in 20th century Chinese politics with all the double-speak, censorship, and neurotic leaders one expects in totalitarian governments. From the time Ai Weiwei could remember, he witnessed his father's humiliation and erasure. Only when he reached adolescence was his father's trajectory on the slow ascent again. It is at this point Ai Weiwei shifts the narrative focus to himself. He attends and leaves art school. He lives in New York for several years. He returns to China and becomes increasingly outspoken about the government's suppression of information and restrictions on free expression. He won't back down. I appreciated that Ai included both descriptions of many of his more widely known works and what inspired him to create them and his personal trials (literally) and victories. By the end I had a much greater appreciation for the constant and consistent motivating force behind all of his actions, artistic and personal. I'm inspired by his faithfulness to his values and the example he sets of resisting oppression no matter the cost. From the book: If you don't have the right to raise questions, you have no real freedom, and I refused to accept the idea that the state's authority can't be opposed, challenged, or interrogated. In the face of power, I would always be at a disadvantage, I knew, but I was a born contrarian, and there's no other way for me to live except by taking an oppositional stance.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    The first part of this book about Ai Weiwei's childhood is a rather standard memoir of the travails suffered by intellectuals and artists in China under the communists. Of course it wasn't just the Cultural Revolution. The party's control over art and culture and its oppression of people who didn't toe the line started much earlier as Mr. Ai's telling of his family's story makes clear, and it continues today. I was worried that this was all that the book would be, but it gets much better as Mr. The first part of this book about Ai Weiwei's childhood is a rather standard memoir of the travails suffered by intellectuals and artists in China under the communists. Of course it wasn't just the Cultural Revolution. The party's control over art and culture and its oppression of people who didn't toe the line started much earlier as Mr. Ai's telling of his family's story makes clear, and it continues today. I was worried that this was all that the book would be, but it gets much better as Mr. Ai grows up, goes to America and begins to find his path as an artist. I have always enjoyed Mr. Ai's art. I was particularly moved by his piece constructed of thousands ceramic sunflower seeds. Now I have a deeper appreciation, having learned more about who he is as an artist. As Mr. Ai explains here, his art is an expression of his attitude, identity and activism. There is no border between them, no defining place where one ends and the other begins. It's not just that they are blended together. For Mr. Ai, art, attitude, identity and activism are all expressions of the same thing. Other artists have articulated similar theories, but Mr. Ai walks the walk. With this point of view, there really cannot be a debate about whether art should be for art's sake or to serve a social purpose. That's the wrong question to ask. It does both and neither, whether you like it or not.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nacho López

    I really liked Ai Weiwei’s memoir because it shines light on the pathway he has followed, the reasons that justify this particular road and the impact it has had in his life- although he reflects on the impact he has had on the world the fact that he focuses on how his path has impacted him and shaped his worldview us very important. This book is also fundamental because it reminds us how each of us as individuals can make a decision between being complacent or facing off with an unjust system. I really liked Ai Weiwei’s memoir because it shines light on the pathway he has followed, the reasons that justify this particular road and the impact it has had in his life- although he reflects on the impact he has had on the world the fact that he focuses on how his path has impacted him and shaped his worldview us very important. This book is also fundamental because it reminds us how each of us as individuals can make a decision between being complacent or facing off with an unjust system. Weiwei stresses that “when people blur what is right and wrong, what takes over is pragmatism and preoccupation with the expedient.” As a response to this, he posits the importance of freedom as a choice of the individual: “freedom is not a goal but a direction, and it comes into being through the very act of resistance.” It is our choice if we resist, or as has been elsewhere-ludicrously proposed- we exercise our “negative” freedom.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lowell Ricketts

    A fascinating look at Chinese history told through the intergenerational experience of the Ai family. Given that Ai Weiwei and his father Ai Qing are both artists, their memories provide a unique look at the evolution of contemporary art forms in China. I've always been a fan of Ai Weiwei's art and I learned about other exhibits that he had done that I wasn't aware of. The middle of the book jumps around chronologically and is a little hard to follow. However, you won't be able to put the book d A fascinating look at Chinese history told through the intergenerational experience of the Ai family. Given that Ai Weiwei and his father Ai Qing are both artists, their memories provide a unique look at the evolution of contemporary art forms in China. I've always been a fan of Ai Weiwei's art and I learned about other exhibits that he had done that I wasn't aware of. The middle of the book jumps around chronologically and is a little hard to follow. However, you won't be able to put the book down towards the end as Ai Weiwei describes his bizarre detainment by the authorities. His unjust imprisonment is something reminiscent of 1984.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William

    My wife and I are great admirers of Ai Weiwei's work. We have seen it exhibited in Toronto, California and Maine, and it has never failed to intrigue and often to move us. Whether it qualifies as art or not, it evokes emotions, so it was no surprise that his memoirs have a similar impact on me. My overall take-away is that the book is an earnest and effective attempt to record who he is. This is actually two books. The first half is an interesting and cogent summary of the history of China in th My wife and I are great admirers of Ai Weiwei's work. We have seen it exhibited in Toronto, California and Maine, and it has never failed to intrigue and often to move us. Whether it qualifies as art or not, it evokes emotions, so it was no surprise that his memoirs have a similar impact on me. My overall take-away is that the book is an earnest and effective attempt to record who he is. This is actually two books. The first half is an interesting and cogent summary of the history of China in the 20th Century, though examining the life of Ai Weiwei's father, Ai Qing. I was familiar with a lot of that material, but never in an organized way, and am grateful for my education being enhanced. I found the second half, which is Ai Weiwei's life, to be exciting reading. I admire his steadfastness, and the principles he stands for. And, as he intends, I am deeply moved (and saddened) by the operation of the Chinese government and its Communist Party as he describes them. The detail is meticulous and, to me at least, convincing. I have to admit that I find the way he has lived his life to be heroic. Other readers have been uncomfortable with the apparent lack of a full range of emotions in this volume. The reader gets a view of Ai Weiwei mostly in the things he does, and much less in how he feels, especially in the intimate aspects of his life. But I found the book to be generally free of the egotism which can permeate a memoir. I am comfortable accepting that he is what he says he is, and while he is a passionate man, he is not a warm and fuzzy companion, in his intimate life or otherwise. Maybe this book is meant for people who already admire Ai, because it really pulls together a variety of perceptions I have had of him and his work. But I found this educational, emotional and a very worthwhile read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    kevin moore

    The theme here is repression of multi dimensional art (and speech) in support of the State desire for total societal control. Ai Wei Wei (and his father, and likely his son) takes an increasing amount of his art in the direction of confronting the State for their repressive tactics. The typical and frightening totalitarian encounters ensue and the State behind the actions cannot be identified by person; only the functionary security services have a face and name. You get a tag-along bio of Al Wei The theme here is repression of multi dimensional art (and speech) in support of the State desire for total societal control. Ai Wei Wei (and his father, and likely his son) takes an increasing amount of his art in the direction of confronting the State for their repressive tactics. The typical and frightening totalitarian encounters ensue and the State behind the actions cannot be identified by person; only the functionary security services have a face and name. You get a tag-along bio of Al Wei Wei that is not always linear but always compelling. The tension between this one artist and the State says so much about the direction of China.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary Drayer

    What a way to start this New Year of 2022…The true story of father and son who fought for “freedom of speech” through art and poetry. Both men struggled with incarceration, false imprisonment, horrible living conditions and two life stories that will capture your heart!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dmflinsch

    When I bought this title my local bookseller said “This is such an amazing book I feel like I am selling one of my kids when I sell it.” I wanted to love it that much, Wei is a fascinating individual, however he seems uncomfortable with the memoir format. I’ve never been held at such arms length by a biographer with his matter-of-fact reporting style of writing.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian

    Interesting, even fascinating lives of Ai Weiwei and his father, and of China's recent past. But the writing is dry and uninspired; and Ai Weiwei is just a little too full of himself for my tastes. Interesting, even fascinating lives of Ai Weiwei and his father, and of China's recent past. But the writing is dry and uninspired; and Ai Weiwei is just a little too full of himself for my tastes.

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