October 15, 2015
Ai Weiwei in London in September.
After years of turning his own personal and political trials into high-impact art installations, as well as blog posts and Instagram memes, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has just signed a book deal to write his first proper memoir.
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, will publish the book in the United States in spring 2017, with simultaneous release in the United Kingdom and Canada by sister companies. Crown would not comment on how much it paid.
A statement from Mr. Ai’s publisher promises a memoir that doubles as “an extraordinary cultural history of China over the past 100 years, told through the prism of both his own life story and that of his father, Ai Qing.” Trained as a painter, the senior Mr. Ai became a poet in the 1930s when he was imprisoned by the Kuomintang for “revolutionary activities” and didn’t have access to painting supplies. Three decades later, he was banished by Mao’s regime to hard labor in the Gobi Desert, where he and his young family lived in a small hole in the ground and the elder Mr. Ai cleaned public toilets.
Mr. Ai’s own widely publicized but little-understood 81-day detention in 2011 at the hands of the Chinese authorities will also be a subject of the book, as will his development as an artist in New York in the 1980s and his time working in Beijing since then. In a statement, he said, “I write about my father, his generation, and my own experience, our struggle for individual freedom and self-expression in this old society.”
And he suggests that the very form of a memoir is, at least in China, a deeply political act: “The history of totalitarianism is one characterized by the state’s continuous attempts to destroy individual memories.”