16. Liu Xiaobo
for bearing the flame of 1989 into a new generation.
Political prisoner | China
When Liu Xiaobo learned of his 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, he wept and told his wife -- who was visiting him in remote Jinzhou prison, where the dissident writer has been serving an 11-year sentence -- that he was dedicating the award to "the lost souls" of Tiananmen Square, whose protest back in 1989 turned the soft-spoken professor into a political activist.
Liu had agreed to help write Charter 08, a manifesto for Chinese civil rights modeled on the Soviet-era Charter 77, in a similar act of selflessness, knowing it would get him in trouble. Two days before its publication, on Dec. 8, 2008, he was detained and thrown into a windowless cell. A year later he was convicted of "incitement to subvert state power."
It wasn't the first time Liu had been jailed; his first confinement followed his participation in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Yet more than two decades of suffering have not broken his spirit or blurred his convictions. "To block freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, to strangle humanity, and to suppress the truth," Liu told the court before his sentencing.
China's state media have characterized the Nobel only as a tool of Western propagandists, and live feeds of CNN and the BBC went black during the prize's announcement. But the word is getting out, and it's not just the Nobel Peace Prize committee that thinks China will eventually have to reckon with Liu's ideas.
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images