While living in China it is sometimes tempting to start thinking it's not that different. The government doesn't seem to be messing with people on a daily basis, and the police don't go around looking for a confrontation like they do in the US.
But, don't forget that it'd be perfectly normal for the Chinese government to send an order to all radio stations like:
When reporting traffic news, never say it is "very" bad - just say it is "slightly" bad - and every mention of traffic problems must be accompanied by a positive statement about traffic progress. Never talk about the details of accidents. Emphasize the work being done to improve conditions.
All organizations would have to go along with this, and you'd never know it was even happening - in fact, it's already going on, and there are already orders like that controlling the way everything is reported, what's emphasized, etc. From top to bottom, no organization is free of this.
Everyone making a decision that could influence the public first thinks about what the Party will think of it.
From the top of the military, to the littlest kindergarten teacher in the middle of nowhere, is part of the same hierarchical system designed for control.
No media in China can be trusted. There are committees deciding what to emphasize and what to ignore behind everything.
In other countries, it's assumedthat there's no connection between traffic reporters terminology and the government, and that reporters are free to vary the way they do the story any way they like.
This has its own problems - you get stunt helicopter roving reporters, people focusing on nothing but celebrity drama and car chases. And you get total misperception of reality - news converges to a format serving the human desire for drama. In the western, free sense, news coverage evolves due to the combination of competition for viewers plus influence of the people owning the media. People or organizations taking a stand may last for a while, but not forever.
But in China, if a reporter is writing a story, or someone is doing a job, even if there are not propaganda rules about it, they will have been taught how to do it in school, and the school system is nationalized. There's an official approved way to do things, and people just do it that way. That's why there are 10 million almost identical apartment buildings and a billion miles of sidewalk exactly the same.
The internet has been built with complete permission of the government. They never would have allowed anything to be built unless it is open to them by default. All your passwords are theirs, and it's not cause they're cracking them - they have copies from when you created the account in the first place. Everything's been cracked all along, from the first computer sold in China. And if you're a newcomer, there are automatic analysis programs that tell them how you make up passwords, and your pattern of re-use. i.e. there is an automatic profile created on every Chinese user, with inputs of every password they've chosen in the past, their entire qq chat history, linked to every phone call they've ever made, with transcripts etc. Their full location history, all submitted government documents, all personal contacts, romantic history, favorite media channels, job history, political loyalty reports from all the CCP indoctination classes they've taken over the years (and which extend into graduate school for all subjects).
ISPs send copies of some or all of all the data in/out of your computer to their data centers, so even registering for overseas sites can be cracked.
They also use every possible means to install bugs on your computer - if you are infected, even overseas sites that use ssl to login won't be secure, since they are just monitoring your keystrokes. These bugs don't show up in common anti-virus scans - macafee / symantec want to do business in China, don't they? So they won't flag Chinese security back-doors.
In order for them to install a keylogger you need to make ONE mistake, ever. Install one Chinese program you downloaded, or visit a page that exploits an bug in your web browser, and your copy of windows now has a backdoor to the Chinese government. From there they go about installing backdoors in every one of your other programs.
Why would you assume your phone is secure? Why would China allow smartphones to be sold there which don't have keyloggers forwarding everything to them? So have you ever installed gmail on your phone & typed the password in? Now they have your gmail password.
They don't seem to be overtly using it to blackmail people / kick them out of the country. But when / if it is necessary... I bet there are a lot of images, texts, stored up for future use against Americans who may ever have anything to do in China.