I have spent considerable time living in, travelling around and visiting China over the past 25 years. Further, I am an information security professional and have first hand experience witht the Great Firewall and the 50,000 or so cyber censors. What you hear is not melodrama. I used to routinely test the Great Firewall and it is as described and it can be circumvented with effort. For example, in 2005 there were over 85,000 public protests about corruption, land grabs and other inequities (NYT and Int'l Herald Tribune). Tghis type of info makes it out, but you have to know where to look for it. Most foreigners do everything in English and the Great Firewall is less efficient with English than with Mandarin.
When I was living in Beijing, I had a 'minder' that routinely 'showed up' at my office to chat about a variety of security topics, sometimes even when I was scheduled to be away and just stopped by to pick up something (BTW this was as recently as in 2001 - 2007 and my most recent visit was a few monhths back). Self sensorship is a local and cultural thing really. 'A Harmonious Society' is the Govt's watchword for controlling the vast populace and expats/foreigners are of less concern in this arena.
When you go to the provinces and have an opportunity to meet with local officials, the 'party line' runs quite deep and they are serious about it. Some of the more hardcore types are indeed from the countryside. On the other hand, the big issue in the countryside is that the income gap between them and the East Coast new middle class is growing and the countryside is getting more and more vocal about being left behind - remember what has happenned in China for the past 5,000 years every time the wealth gap has gotten too big.
On a potitive note, it is very important to separate the actions and goals of the Govt from the spirit and openness of the Chinese people. I can easily understand how English Teachers get the good side of China in their job. I am not sure how one would expect an English Teacher to be the initiator of news about the censorship in China. This was an actual part of my old job. If you are looking for a better perspective, then try to hear what experienced expat executives say about China after they have been there for a few years - much more realistic than English Teachers IMHO.