In China, many people who write online or in any form of media practice a form of self-censorship in order to keep themselves from trouble with the government. And Westerners (in particular) often feel compelled to decry this sort of behavior, stressing that it is impinging upon the rights of the individual. And, in countries that espouse the rights of man within society (rather than society itself), they would likely be right. However, is the right to free speech as free as its supporters within the West claim?
I suppose that depends upon your definition of "free". Certainly you are free to say and write whatever you want with little interference from government intrusion. (Well, ok, I'm sure that Julian Assange would disagree with that assessment. But then again, in the US, he would likely be tried in a court of law that operates mostly outside of the political spectrum. In most other countries, if he were tried in a court of law it would be one where the guilty decision would be pre-determined by the political authorities and then either whisked away to prison or to a speedy execution. And some countries would not even bother with a kangaroo court. But I digress...) However, the opportunity and the ability to say and write whatever you wish is tempered by the very same court of law which has rendered things like libel and slander as offenses which can be punished - rightly so! Furthermore, and this is especially true in an increasingly interconnected world where there can be very little separation between an individual's professional and personal life, there can be very serious consequences to what one says or writes.
There are plenty of examples of people being fired for Facebook or blog posts (this is just one example). People complaining about their employers or even their friends can result in lost jobs or lost friends - there are always consequences. So, most people will choose to limit what they say to a degree so as not to encounter potentially negative consequences. Sure, they have the right to say what they want but most people recognize there are (and, frankly, should be) limits.
So, when criticizing people in China for self-censorship in order to avoid negative political consequences, bear in mind that the same applies in the "free" West - even if not necessarily within the same paradigm. We all do it to one degree or another even if we don't recognize it in the same fashion.
Now I'm off to someplace very private to go complain about my job...