My dad, Stephen R. MacKinnon, is a professor of modern Chinese history at Arizona State University.
This is why I lived in China as a child from 1979-81. At that time he was teaching, doing historical research, and working on a book with my mother. He has also written about China coverage by American journalists in the 1930's and 40's.
Dad's main focus of late has been on the Sino-Japanese war, as well as the Chinese press in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, before the Communists took power in 1949. This weekend he is at Harvard for a historical workshop about newspapers in China from 1911-1949.
The Chinese press was much more freewheeling during Republican China than after the communists came to power, but this was often because the government was weaker and more corrupt than for lack of efforts to control the press. My dad presented a paper today about the newspaper magnate Cheng Shewo. Cheng had to cultivate relationships with people in power in order to keep his papers operating, but he still had to deal with censorship and even arrest. My dad tells a great story:
"Cheng was arrested over ten times in the mid-1920's, so often that he hired a person who resembled him to sit near the front door of his office and act as decoy managing editor, thus giving Cheng time, when the police came, to flee out the back door."
Later, in the 1930's, when Cheng was running the Shanghai-based newspaper Li Bao (立報, which later moved to Taiwan), he dealt with censorship by leaving a blank space where the article should have been, underneath the original provocative headline.