We recently arrived in Beijing after 2-1/2 months travelling in parts of China far from the capital. It's interesting to note that here, under the watchful eyes of Jiang Zemin and his pals, cybercafes aren't nearly as common as one would expect for such a big city.
The home computer market is taking off and billboards advertising dot-coms are common but we've only come across three cybercafes. The main post office has only a single machine and it's relatively expensive at Y18 (US$2.17) an hour. By comparison, in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, the post office included something called "Hong Jing - Internet Sports Club". Following the sign we found a large room with thirty machines (all occupied) for use at just Y3 ($.36) an hour.
We got online one day in Beijing and had no problems accessing an intersting group of news stories. The previous day, just across the street from where we now sat in the cybercafe, scores of Falun Gong practitioners had been arrested while peacefully demonstrating. We hadn't realized that this day was the anniversary of the big demonstration one year ago when 10,000 protesters appeared in Tiananmen Square and thrust the Falun Gong into the international spotlight.
We'd been out of town that day and learned the news via the Internet. Details of the arrests were freely available online from external news sources—but again, in English. The Chinese press—widely read not just in purchased copies but also posted on public marquees—would make no mention of such arrests or would give a slanted, government perspective.
Does such censorship work? An American traveller we met spoke with some students at Beijing University (China's most prestigious school) about the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989 in which hundreds if not thousands were killed by government troops. The students, who would have been about ten years old at the time, flatly stated that no one had died in the crackdown.