NEW YORK — Actor Christian Bale hailed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng as a "giant among men" during an emotional meeting nearly a year after the Batman star was forcefully prevented from visiting the activist.

Chen, who made a daring escape in April from house arrest and was eventually able to go to New York, hugged Bale and appeared to be in tears as the blind self-taught lawyer accepted an award from the group Human Rights First.

"He represents the people of China, the people that I met. He represents their hopes, their aspirations and their desire to be free from corruption and tyranny," the British actor told the ceremony Wednesday evening.

"He is a symbol of what an individual is capable of, no matter how humble his or her origins. He is in my opinion a giant among men," Bale said, according to footage carried by CNN.

Chen was sentenced to more than four years in prison in 2006 after exposing forced abortions and other abuses under China's one-child policy.

He was freed in September 2010 but authorities in the eastern province of Shandong then placed him under house arrest during which, Chen said, he and his wife were severely beaten as punishment for speaking out.

The blind man injured himself as he scaled walls to evade his captors in the dead of night, sneaking all the way to the US embassy in Beijing. After tense talks during a previously scheduled visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, China allowed Chen to leave with his family to study in New York.

Bale, describing Chen as an inspiration, in December last year invited a CNN crew to accompany him on an eight-hour drive from Beijing to Chen's village, where they were prevented from entering.

Bale's trip, which angered authorities in Beijing, came as the actor was visiting China to promote "The Flowers of War," a film about the 1937 massacre in Nanjing by Japanese troops -- an emotionally charged topic in the country.

The historical drama, in which Bale plays an American mortician in the besieged city, was China's highest-grossing film last year.