Name: Ai Weiwei
Profession: Artist, tweeter, professional provocateur
and Punishment: Authorities charged him with "
saying that a company registered to his wife owed 2.4
million dollars in taxes, and disappeared him for almost
three months starting in April 2011. More likely, authorities disapproved of his
campaigning for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, his outspokenness in
criticizing China to the foreign press, and the
real and proverbial middle finger that appeared
throughout his art work.
In an interview, he explained how he dealt with the isolation:
I realized you need information to stay alive. When there's no information, you're already dead. It's a very, very strong test --
I think more severe than any physical punishment."
Desperate for interaction, Ai began to needle the guards to provoke a response. But they
just sat and stared at me with no expression. They were very young, and clean, and emotionless, like you were not there," he says. With nothing to do, Ai paced back and forth in his cell, covering some 600 miles and losing almost 30 pounds during his 81 days of confinement. "All I wanted was a dictionary, even the simplest one," he says, adding that passing the time was "impossible." "I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that's human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that's very threatening."
Ai remains a celebrity both inside and outside of China. In November,
the Chinese government again
ramped upits case for
the charges of tax evasion, which Ai fought in a creative, populist manner: He
offered netizens the opportunity to lend him money. Hundreds of thousands
contributed. Most recently, Ai, who has more
than 120,000 followers on Twitter, said that if the site starts censoring tweets, he'll stop tweeting.
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images