Jail time and his father's exile to figure large in Ai Weiwei's memoirs

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Ai Weiwei's memoirs, '1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows,' will be published on November 2 of this year.

This November will be marked by a much-anticipated event in the art world: the publication of Ai Weiwei's long-awaited autobiography, "1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows." In the forthcoming book, the internationally famous Chinese contemporary artist will look back on a life of extraordinary experiences and memories of his father, the exiled poet Ai Qing.

Ai Weiwei is intent on exorcising his demons in "1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows." As is often the case in his artworks, the point of departure for this autobiography will be the 81 days Ai Weiwei spent in a Chinese prison. "During those long weeks, I thought often of my father, a poet who had been exiled during Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Campaign. I realized how incomplete my understanding of him was and how much I regretted the unbridgeable gap between us. I did not want my son to suffer the same regret. I resolved that if I was released I would write down what I knew of my father and tell my son honestly who I am, what life is like, why freedom is so precious, and why autocracy fears art."

According to the book's publisher Penguin Random House, "1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows" will look back on a century of Chinese history and its influence on Ai Weiwei's art and political activism. The fiery Chinese artist will also tell the story of his father, the poet Ai Qing. In the late 1950s under the government of Mao Zedong, the man who is now considered to be the founder of modern Chinese poetry was accused of "rightism" and forced to live for more than a decade in a desert in Chinese Turkestan. Ai Weiwei already paid a poignant homage to his father with the exhibition "Fan-Tan," which was held at the Mucem in Marseille, France in 2018.

Linking three generations of artists

In his memoirs, "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," adds Penguin Random House.

"1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows," which has already been translated into 13 languages, will be officially launched on November 2. On the same day, fans of art and poetry will also have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a new English edition of Ai Qing's "Selected Poems." Ai Weiwei's son, Ai Lao, designed the cover for the forthcoming poetry book, which will link three generations of artists from the same family.

Caroline Drzewinski