The growing military might of China cannot conceal the almost hysterical sensitivity of the Communist government. A single avant-garde artist, Ai Weiwei, has provoked an international sensation by his criticism of the repression by the government.

The artist has been held by police under charges of tax evasion, which his family calls a pretext for his arrest. Western news correspondents report a general roundup of other activists who are less well-known.

Despite the totalitarian nature of the Chinese regime — or perhaps because of it — the government fears a civil revolution scuh as those which have challenged and sometimes overturned despots in the Middle East.

Released from detention pending trial, the artist Ai upped the ante of his activism by calling on the Internet for more attention to human-rights abuses. “If you don’t speak out for Wang Lihong, and don’t speak out for Ruan Yunfei, you are not only a person who doesn’t stand up for justice and fairness, you don’t have any self-respect,” Ai wrote.

The two are facing trial on charges such as subversion and “creating a public disturbance” because of human rights activism.

The United States, as a champion of liberty, ought to speak out often about abuses of human rights in China. The activists suffering in miserable Chinese jails might be the future heroes of a free China.