In 1981, Ai Qing was seventy years old, and had been politically rehabilitated for only five years, when he made his first trip to the United States, as part of a small contingent of visiting writers from the People’s Republic, which was still climbing out of the depths of the Cultural Revolution. They visited Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Indiana, California, Washington, D.C., and New York, where they paid a visit to the office of The New Yorker. They were received by E. J. Kahn, who wrote for the magazine for fifty-six years.
In the Talk of the Town that week, Kahn described their visit. Ai Qing was the eldest of the group, which also included the novelist Wang Meng and the translator and editor Feng Yidai. Kahn wrote:
Ai Qing, every inch the Oriental elder, was wearing Chinese cloth shoes and a Chinese suit. We asked the poet what the acceptable term was these days, with the Gang of Four on trial, for a jacket like his—what we Americans had got used to calling a Mao jacket. All smiles vanished. “This was never a Mao jacket,” Ai Qing said after a reflective pause. “I am wearing what has always been a Dr. Sun Yat-sen jacket.”
In the years since his death, Ai Qing’s torment has become a symbol in China for the price of honesty. I often hear Chinese people wonder if Ai Weiwei has been afforded some modest latitude to agitate because some in the leadership still can’t entirely bear to acknowledge the mistreatment of his father.
The full New Yorker piece about Ai’s visit can be downloaded here (PDF).