I dunno, sometimes I'm not so sure that a huge change is right around the corner. The Chinese government is many things, but it is not stupid. The people in control are interested above all in staying in control, and are very good at giving away just enough to keep people content without releasing any real power. They're ideologically bankrupt (though they do keep the trappings of communism with hammers and sickles and the like), but are able to turn to easy fixes like nationalist drum-beating to rally people behind them. That way, someone who opposes the government carries the risk of being seen as anti-patriotic. In the recently introduced (and bizarre) "8 Honours and 8 Shames" propaganda campaign, the first honour is "The honour of fiercely loving the motherland", and the first shame is "The shame of harming the motherland". Of course, they don't say what "harming" means, which leaves a lot of room for government interpretation.
On the other hand, I think it's true to say that even with the annoying internet restrictions, a censored media, a corrupt government and huge social inequalities, most mainland Chinese people today are better off than they've ever been in the past. I think it's also true to say that most people are more "free" now than they've been in the past. Internet restrictions are annoying for me as a foreigner in China, but for many Chinese people, access to the internet in any way represents a step forward in the ability to share information. Also, most Chinese internet users use websites based in China, and are therefore unaffected by problems connecting to the internet outside the country. If you've had no freedom in the past, a little bit is a big thing. It's just hard to escape the thought that what freedoms exist are only there to placate the people.
EDIT: As for proxies, I usually just go with a web-based anonymisation service like anonymouse.org or nomorelimits.net. Paying for a proxy means less money for bike parts!