Howard W. French writes in the New York Times, via statesman.com:
For the past two decades, China’s people have become richer but not much freer, and the Communist Party has staked its future on the hope that they will live with that trade-off.
That, at least, is the conventional wisdom. But as the Olympic Games approach, training a spotlight on China’s rights record, that view obscures a more complex reality: Political change, however gradual and inconsistent, has made China a significantly more open place for average people than it was a generation ago.
Many freedoms remain limited in China. The rights of public expression and assembly are limited; ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang province, are repressed; and the party has a near monopoly on political decisions.
But Chinese also increasingly live where they want. They travel abroad in ever larger numbers. Property rights have found broader support in courts. Within well-defined limits, people enjoy the fruits of the technological revolution, from cell phones to the Internet, and can communicate or find information with an ease that has few parallels in authoritarian countries of the past.