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Rani Durgavati

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Rani Durgavati

She rose, unexpectedly, to be queen of a doomed people. But in her veins flowed the blood of heroes. And she knew it.

Rani Durgavati was born in 1524 in what is now central India. Her father, Keerat Raj, was then a king of the ancient and powerful Chandel Dynasty, which 500 years earlier had brought advanced art and architecture to its region. 

To cement his position of power, Keerat Raj arranged for Rani to marry the eldest son of the King of a nearby kingdom called Gond. Upon the marriage of Rani to Dalpat Shah in 1542, the Chandel and Gond were united into the single kingdom of Gondwana. As was the custom in ancient dynasties, theirs was as much political alliance as marriage.

Rani soon gave birth to a son named Vir. The dynastic lineage Raj imaged was thus secured. However, Dalpat Shah sickened and died in 1550. Indian queens were rarely called on to rule, but because Vir was just a child, Rani had no choice but to take up the reigns of power. She was just 26. She soon made a name for herself as a fair and just leader of her people.

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Qiu Jin

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Qiu Jin

A feminist poet and revolutionary, Qui Jin refused to compromise her dreams for liberation, becoming a symbol of – and hero to – modern China.

Qui Jin was born into a China on the brink of collapse. In 1875, the country had suffered two back-to-back conflicts on its own soil. Collectively referred to as the Opium Wars, they had rapidly undermined the ruling Qing Dynasty, which had been in power since 1644. Opium is a highly addictive substance -- one try and you're hooked -- which made dealers rich. But the traders were mostly British and French, and their importation of opium from India into China was largely illegal.

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Mother Teresa

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Mother Teresa

How can one person change the world? Mother Teresa did it by example.

Anjezë Gonxhe, the daughter of an Albanian entrepreneur, was born in 1911 the city of Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia. As a child, Anjezë prayed at the shrine of the Black Madonna, a pilgrimage site visited by many devout Albanians. God spoke to Anjezë there, at the age of 8; and at 18 she left home to become a nun.

After a year of preparation in Ireland, Anjezë began her novitiate in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. She took her vows at 21, choosing for herself the name of Teresa, the patron saint of missionaries. She would soon live up to that name.

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Yuan Mei

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Yuan Mei

Have you ever thought about making your voice heard by concealing social critique in some common, everyday thing, like food? 

That's how the poet and gastronome, Yuan Mei, found a way to criticize the anti-intellectualism of a haughty, deceitful, and unjust government.

Born in 1716 in Hangzhou, China, the son of a poor clerk, Yuan Mei was raised by his aunt, who taught him to read poetry. He became so obsessed with words and books, he'd idle outside of bookshops just to be near them. But he had no money to buy them. Mei worked very hard at school. So hard, in fact, that he was able to pass his national exam at the age of 11 -- a test that many 17-year olds repeatedly failed. This allowed him to go on to higher education.

Starting in primary school, Mei saved every poem he ever wrote. They told the story of his life. By the time he died, at the age of 82, he had amassed several thousand poems. They still survive today. But writing poetry was no way to make a living in the China of his day. After finishing school, Mei spent all his time tutoring to make ends meet. His ambition was to win a position as a government official. In 1743, Mei finally gained a job as a Prefect to the city of Nanjing. For the next fifteen years, he worked in various government positions, gaining wealth and prestige as an insightful and caring governor of his people. However, he found little fulfillment in his work. 

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Lady Xian

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Lady Xian

Have you ever noticed that the greatest leaders are those who bring lasting peace to their people, rather than the perils of war?

Lady Xian was one of them, still remembered and revered two millenia later.

In the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, there are more than 200 temples dedicated to the ancient queen, Lady Xian. Visitors burn incense beneath the statues of Xian and her husband Feng Bo, while young couples who quarrel pray to the statues for guidance on how to get along. With her phoenix crown and Bao, Xian still protects her people from harm.

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Zenobia

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Zenobia

In an era when men believed women weren't fit for war or politics, Zenobia nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees.

It was 240 A.D. The Roman Empire, in power now for almost three centuries, stretched from what is modern-day Iraq, throughout the Middle East, northward into Europe and across the Channel into Britain. Syria was one of many provinces that the Romans annexed, ruled, and taxed...heavily.

This was the world Zenobia of Palmyra was born into. Though the daughter of a family of shepherds, she was allowed an education. She grew up speaking four languages, including Greek and Latin as well as the languages of her people. 

Outside school, she learned how to ride horses and command her family's flocks. All these skills would serve her well in the years to come.

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Yi Sun-sin

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Yi Sun-sin

Where do you look for solutions to life's most insurmountable problems?

Yi Sun-sin found his inspiration in nature.

In 1592, hordes of Japanese samurai poured forth from ships into Korea. Then King Seonjo, who was as corrupt as they come, panicked and fled. He left his countrymen defenseless. In a matter of months, hundreds of thousands of Korean civilians were enslaved or killed. Most of the rest fled into the mountains and prayed for a miracle.

The future of their kingdom was in doubt. How could a small nation now bereft of leadership defeat a military superpower like Japan?

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Mahatma Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi

Before Martin Luther King could march, Nelson Mandela could fast, or César Chávez could strike, Mahatma "Good Soul" Gandhi showed the entire world the power of nonviolent protest.

On June 7, 1893, then-24-year-old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was minding his own business in the first-class section of a South Africa train when a white man angrily demanded he be sent to the back. The reason? His skin color.

A spark of rebellion ignited inside of Gandhi, and he refused to move. As a result, he was forcibly tossed onto the platform of the next station stop. That's when he decided to dedicate his life to fighting prejudice.

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Laika and the Soviet Space Dogs

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Laika and the Soviet Space Dogs

Has anyone ever underestimated what you were capable of?

No one was prepared for Laika.

On November 3, 1957, a tiny capsule rocketed into space. Inside was the diminutive body of a fourteen-pound dog. The occupant was named Laika, and she had become the first creature in history to leave Earth for the stars, initiating the era of human space exploration. It was no small accomplishment for a stray that only a few days earlier had been fighting for scraps of food on the streets of Moscow.

Laika’s unlikely journey was borne out of the desperate need to prove that spaceflight was possible.

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Liu Xiaobo

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Liu Xiaobo

It takes a special kind of artist to get into as much trouble with the powers that be as Liu Xiaobo did.

Liu was a Chinese poet and writer who died July 13, 2017, after spending the last 30 years of his life in and out of jail as a political prisoner. He advocated for democratic reforms in a country that has been ruled by a dictator -- in one form or another -- for centuries.

In this post, we honor Liu Xiaobo as a representative of ideas and ideals that have resonated with millions of people all over the world for centuries, even in China where...

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Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai

Do you believe in universal education: the right to attend school and to learn, regardless of gender?

Malala Yousafzai nearly gave her life for it. Her story proves that even teens can change the world.

Malala was born in the Swat District of Pakistan on July 12, 1997. Her father, Ziauddin, the head of a nearby school, was a vocal advocate of the right of women to receive an education. This made him an enemy of the hardline traditionalists -- known as the Taliban in that part of the world -- then intent on turning back the clock where women's rights were concerned.

For Malala, the apple didn't fall far from the tree...

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José Rizal

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José Rizal

Would you stand up for what you think is right, even against a powerful monarch living across the sea?

José Rizal did.

José Rizal was born in 1861 in the Spanish-ruled Philippines. He was a gifted student, and during his school years became especially skilled in science and languages. He went on to study medicine in Manila and later traveled to Spain to finish his degree.

While in Europe, Rizal began to question Spanish colonialism. He met other like-minded Filipinos intent on rectifying the evils of the then three-centuries-old Spanish colonial system. He formed Los Indios Bravos, an association of Filipino writers whose poems, stories, and newspaper articles demonstrated the current condition of the Philippines at the hands of the Spanish. Their goal was to raise awareness of their cruel and terrible treatment of Filipinos. Los Indios Bravos quickly formed the basis of the Propaganda Movement: a peaceful crusade for social, political, and economic reform in the Philippines.

Rizal wrote his first book at this time, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), which highlighted the role of Spanish Catholic Friars in the colonization of the Philippines. But back home, his book was banned...

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