My first encounter with this was my very first day when I tried to post on our Saints Go Global blog and received an error message. When I tried to go onto a blog site for our group I encountered a similar error message. I checked my Internet connection, which was fine, so I knew that these sites were being blocked. After visiting Tiananmen Square I Googled it to make sure I was spelling it correctly for my posting. The first item that came up was a Wikipedia entry that mentioned the student uprising, but I was unable to click through to Wikipedia.
From talking to people about this, here is what I have learned. Many websites are simply blocked- blog sites, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc. One can, though, find information online on controversial topics. For example, I Googled "Chen activist" and was able to click through to a reuters story about it. (I also saw a story about Chen on CNN in my hotel room, but I am not sure how widely accessible it is.) Interestingly, I was able to post to Saints Go Global through the Blogger app. If the government wants to slow news from spreading about something, they can simply shut the Internet down, as they did for two days after the Chen case hit the news. In general Internet access is controlled through a certain number of conduits, so one knows that the government can and does monitor it constantly.
There is a way to circumvent some of these restrictions. One can purchase a VPN or Virtual Private Network where one can access the Internet through different points in the US. What it comes down to is this: you can get information if you want to. Still, the government can see what you are looking at and what you are posting. (Business people and government officials from the US are admonished not to bring computers to China because they will likely be hacked into by the government.) When someone crosses the line, they are imprisoned or otherwise made an example of. That lets everyone know where the lines are being drawn, at least at that point in time. The result is a sense of fear that leads to self-censorship.
An added component, which affects all potential rule-breaking and other aspects of life are the concepts of shame and pride. When you cross the line, it not only affects you, but it reflects poorly on your family. Family pride is very strong in China, and you don't want to hurt your family's reputation. There is very little crime in China and it is not because of a visible police presence. Things are orderly and well cared for; there is absolutely no garbage on the streets or sidewalks of Beijing, a city of 20 million!
I will try to delve into these topics further throughout my journey.