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BOOK REVIEW:

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most famous, and infamous, internationally known artists. His artistic style ranges from representational to pushing boundaries all over the place. Not only in his visual work has he stretched and pushed, but in his thoughts, ideas and comments about his native country and its lack of expressive freedom; its authoritarian disregard for humanity and oppression of different types of people within its own borders, as well as supporting various types of repression throughout the world. This drive to express, and lack of concern for his own safety, landed Ai Weiwei in prison and under torture. It might be part of his family’s tradition, in that his father Ai Qing, once a celebrated poet and friend to Mao, was sent to a horrific labor camp, where Ai Weiwei grew up--in exile in his own country.  Born in 1957, it was a time according to Ai Weiwei of the "New China, and, "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." His father was among those who dared not speak about what had taken place, for fear of further punishment and mistreatment.

On April 3, 2011, as Ai Weiwei 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." It gave him time to reflect about his father, and part of his country's history that was blocked out of existence, and fear silenced many of its citizens, who were unable to talk about what had taken place and how they had been treated. Looking back at his own history, it is multifaceted. After Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family returned to Beijing, where Ai Weiwei studied art and animation. From 1980 to 1983, he was allowed to leave China and study in the United States, which was a great awakening for him, being able to learn about all types of artists, art forms and freedom of expression. In 1993 he returned to China because his father was ill, but the artist continued expanding his artistic forms of expression, until it was more than the Chinese government could bear, and he was arrested and his passport was confiscated.  In 2015 his passport was returned to him and he moved to Berlin; later to England, and now lives in Portugal. 

The title of the book is part of a poem written by his father, Ai Qing. The book is a memoir about his father; about himself; about his country; about the necessity for freedom of expression everywhere in the world. Many of Ai Weiwei's international political positions are controversial, but living in the West has made it possible for him to express those ideas.  If there is any group of people who seek freedom of expression, it is artists, and as one of those artists this man does not veer off course. For someone who has been a witness to his family being tormented, punished and exiled, and having survived similar treatment, Ai Weiwei takes the long view and has a spiritual patience about repression and about his art. Despite living in relative freedom, he knows that because of his notoriety, there are forces within China that will not allow him to live completely free. He knows that he is still a hunted man by those who fear what this one man might say or do.
 
Throughout the book, as well as the book jacket, there are illustrations by Ai Weiwei, with additional photographs of the artist, his family and his work.
 
Books about him can be found here. Two other books by Ai Weiwei are recommended:  Truly yours and Ai Weiwei's blog: writings, interviews, and digital rants, 2006-2009.
 

 

 

 

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