[Ai Weiwei] is most eloquent when he stops pontificating on art and surrenders, almost despite himself, to the act of remembering. Ai writes evocatively of the nights spent in his detention cell ... In 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, 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.
As I read 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, I felt as if I’d finally come upon the chronicle of modern China for which I’d been waiting since I first began studying this elusive country six decades ago. What makes this memoir so absorbing is that it traces China’s tumultuous recent history through the eyes of its most renowned twentieth-century poet, Ai Qing, and his son, Ai Weiwei, now equally renowned in the global art world ... Looking back on his experiences growing up with his father in labor camps, he writes of feeling regret ... Ai Weiwei’s memoir is an effort to fill this lacuna, to spell out who his father was and who he now is himself as a person and a father ... It does not take many pages of this memoir to leave one feeling drowned in toxic revolutionary brine. But even as readers will be repelled by the relentless savagery of China’s capricious revolution, they will be uplifted by this father-and-son story of humanism stubbornly asserted against it ... Ai Weiwei’s steadfast devotion to free expression and resistance to the Chinese Communist Party’s unrelenting pressures makes this book glow as if irradiated with righteousness.
Ambitious ... 1,000 Years of Joys and Sorrows touches on the inevitable contradictions of being an activist and an art superstar, but it is above all a story of inherited resilience, strength of character and self-determination.