The huge increase of security in China surrounding the aniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square seems to indicate great concern of the ruling party about possible political protests. Is the government more or less vulnerable than it was 25 years ago? Has the economic boom merely hidden underlying unrest?
It’s hard to gauge public opinion in China, because it can be dangerous to criticize the government. Sometimes you’ll get stories in the US media about American reporters that visited China, asked a bunch of people about the Tiananmen protest, and got blank looks; it’s naïve to think that people are going to put their lives at risk to satisfy a visiting reporter’s curiosity. Western reporters also often rely on Chinese assistants that they use in a haphazard manner. I met one for a national news program that complained to me that if they get into trouble, her boss would get deported but she’d go to prison.
From my experience (talking to middle-classish people on the east coast of China, seeing some of the stuff in the Chinese social media), there seems to be widespread dissatisfaction with the government and a perception that they’re corrupt and not terribly competent. There also seems to be a sense that the current economic growth is leaving most people behind. Even if you have more money, you feel poorer if food and housing have gone up and you need to now buy a car and a smart phone to be respected by your peers.
Having said this, most people seemed to be aware of the danger present in challenging the government directly. One student told me that when they were heading to college, their mother told them about Tiananmen in order to warn them that they could be killed if they got involved in political activism. Much of the protest/activism seems aimed at particular policies or changing the system from within (here’s an Op-ed I just read about that). The vast majority of the people, like anywhere, seem too caught up in their own lives to pay much attention to issues that don’t affect them.
Again, this is just from my personal experience, and mostly with one particular slice of the Chinese population. But given the current state of things, I imagine it’s more accurate than most news reports you hear.