Ai Weiwei’s studio compound sits behind high, ivy-covered gray brick walls on an isolated street in Beijing’s shabby northeast outskirts. China’s best-known dissident, architect, and creative provocateur, Ai used to travel around the country making art and recording injustice: He helped design Beijing’s famous Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics (before denouncing it as “propaganda”) and fought with authorities in Sichuan province over their handling of the 2008 earthquake, in which thousands of children died. All that stopped, however, when Chinese police imprisoned him in April 2011 on politically motivated charges of tax evasion; when he was finally released after 81 days in custody, he was forbidden from leaving Beijing for a year. (He has since been given permission to travel domestically.) Ai, who lived in New York for much of the 1980s, has become a patron of China’s disaffected urbanites, and here, in his tranquil garden, he holds court, offering advice to the thousands of fans, bloggers, activists, and petitioners who visit from all across China and the world. Despite the government’s relentless attempts to shut him up, Ai is still talking. The first change he would make to Chinese cities? Free the people.