One journalist who worked in China tells their sad story of self-censorship:

Theoretically, I could have sneaked something provocative into print. Before the edition went to the printer, I could have asked one of our page designers to switch the text. I knew they didn’t read the articles when they were working. But I would have lost my job, and it might have cost my boss his publishing licence. A lot of people might have lost jobs. I decided that nothing I could have possibly written would justify the human cost. So, the system works.

As it happens China does occasionally throw journalists into jail, and so the implicit cost calculation of defying the censors is able to keep most people in check. For all the opacity of censorship, it’s easy to figure the price of disobeying.

Writers like to rail against censorship, but they’re less keen on discussing what it’s like to work under it. When they do, shame, loneliness and psychic harm are common themes. When you build a life of letters, it’s painful to admit that your work has served the repressive status quo rather than the cause of enlightenment.

One wonders if Thomas Friedman, admirer of Chinese “efficiency,” approves.