In the Cultural Revolution, Ai Weiwei’s Father Burned the Family’s Books

“It confirmed in me how powerful those words printed on paper, and the images in between, could be,” says the artist and human rights activist, whose new book is “Human Flow: Stories From the Global Refugee Crisis.”

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

The book that brought me the closest to another person was one owned by my father. He was the most well-known poet in China, but was prohibited from reading and writing. He secretly kept a French encyclopedia even during the most difficult period when he was forced to clean the public latrines. Under a little oil lamp each night, he would rifle through the encyclopedia and gather information to write a text on Roman history and the Roman Empire. He read some of these paragraphs to me and this brought many memorable moments. …

Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?

My troubles began with my father being an intellectual and a writer, so I can say all of my troubles resulted from my family reading books. …

The New York Times

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