In Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World writers and intellectuals are banished to an island where they have complete freedom to say and do whatever they like — as long as there is no risk of them infecting the rest of society with their ideas.
From what I’ve heard about intellectual freedom in China, it follows a very similar model. While blogs and web sites might be filtered for specific forbidden topics and words, and reporters jailed for being too critical, intellectuals have a fair amount of freedom to explore any topic they see fit.
This view is confirmed by Daniel Bell’s wonderful account of his experiences teaching political theory in Beijing:
In subsequent classes, I learned to relax with the students and to go over the material without worrying about sensitive political implications. We discussed Christian, Realist, Confucian, and Islamic perspectives on just and unjust war, with the students doing presentations and debating more issues among themselves. The student from the party school did an excellent presentation on the Maoist perspective. In debate, he made thoughtful and constructive comments, as one might expect of a talented student. To the extent he had a political motivation, it seemed to be the desire to learn theories that may be useful for China’s future reform.
I have to say, his students seem much more interested in debating ideas than the Taiwanese student’s I’ve encountered — despite (or because of?) the greater freedoms they have.