They are two men, separated by a gulf of power and privilege. One was born of the Chinese Communist Party, the son of a revolutionary hero and seemingly destined to shape China's destiny; the other has lived in the shadow of the state, poor, persecuted and blind.
Right now Chen Guangcheng, the activist, and Bo Xilai, the "princeling," are at the center of a storm that is prising open this secretive country in a way not seen for decades.
China's economy is slowing, the people are growing restless, and right at the time that the all-powerful Communist Party is preparing for a generational leadership change.
It is small wonder that some long-time China watchers, like author and former journalist James Macgregor, sense a new vulnerability in the middle kingdom.
"They're very nervous. I haven't seen China this nervous since post Tiananmen in 1990-91," Macgregor said.
"They don't want a spark to go anywhere and they're pouring water on anything that could cause any problems."
Chen spent more than four years in jail for charges arising from his campaign against alleged forced abortion and sterilization.
But since his release he's been locked down in his house in a small village under constant guard.
Now he is finally free after an extraordinary nighttime escape from his captors last week, and staring down China's leaders.
He released a video on the internet in which he makes allegations of brutality by state security. He accused his guards of violently assaulting him, his wife and elderly mother. He said they scoffed that they were untouchable and above the law.
Chen also addressed China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao directly and demanded hard answers.
"Premier Wen, all these illegal actions have baffled many people. Is it just local officials flagrantly violating the law or do they have the support of the central government?" He asked. "I hope you will give the public a clear answer."
China's only answers so far have been an information black out and more arrests of dissidents.
State media is not running the Chen story, and Weibo, China's Twitter-like micro-blogging service, is being heavily censored with search terms blocked.
One of our producers has his account name banned, while key words like "blind," or "U.S. embassy" have been blocked.
But many Chinese people seem oblivious to the unfolding drama.
CNN spoke to nearly 40 people on the streets of Beijing and could find only two people who even know -- or claimed to know -- who Chen is.
"It was on Weibo and some people are still re-posting. It went on circulating for a while before the topic started to get censored," one man said.
Yet in the rest of the world, Chen's plight is headline news.
According to his supporters he's now being sheltered at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
China and the U.S are saying nothing, publicly at least.
Privately, sources say there has been a flurry of back-door diplomacy to defuse a political time bomb that could rupture already brittle relations between the two powerhouses.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Beijing this week. She has championed Chen's case in the past.
Her visit raises critical questions: Will she demand his release? Will China accuse America of harboring a man it considers an enemy of the state?
Chen is not the only lit fuse in China.