When authorities placed Ai Weiwei under house arrest in 2011, it was just the latest flashpoint in a running battle between Beijing authorities and China's most controversial artist-cum-activist. Ai spent nearly three months in confinement, which only fueled his social activism and pushed him further along a path to worldwide acclaim and eventual exile.
Arrested at the airport as he was preparing to fly out of China, his treatment sparked intense international condemnation. He vanished, but banners reading "Free Ai Weiwei" were posted in art galleries around the globe. For a confrontational artist renowned for dramatic public displays and shocking exhibitions, this surge of public awareness might have been a moment of triumph.