After briefly lying low after his imprisonment, Ai has resumed his political pranks. Mocking the authorities for installing 15 cameras to monitor his movements, he broadcast a public “weiweicam” on the Internet with a feed from his bedroom so the government could keep an even closer eye on him.

“They almost begged me to turn it off,” he said with a grin.

At the end of a long conversation, I asked Ai if he had anything else to say.

“China still needs help from the U.S.,” he said. “To insist on certain values, that is the role of the U.S. That is the most important product of American culture. When Hillary Clinton talks about Internet freedom, I think that’s really beautiful.”