In late February the United States and China exchanged customary blows in the form of reports on the state of human rights in each country. The State Department releases a report on human rights for each country every year around this time, and China has recently begun to respond with its own report on human rights in the United States. I could spend a REALLY long time discussing the nuances of these reports, but I'd like to highlight a few of these issues to give some idea of the situations facing the Chinese people.
Freedom of Speech:
It is no secret that freedom of speech does not exist in China. The only media outlets are state-owned and are censored heavily. Likewise, the internet is censored to exclude websites which are critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), particularly on issues related to civil liberties, Taiwan, Tibet, and religious expression. In the US, we take the freedom of speech and of the press as fundamental components of our society. Indeed, it is absolutely crucial to a functioning democracy.
The State Department cites the growing trend of extrajudicial executions, torture, forced confessions, and forced labor. An example was in the unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which was filmed by a Chinese citizen on his mobile phone and uploaded to the internet. The CCP's response was to beat him to death. Reports indicate that over 200 people lost their lives when this uprising was put down by the military.
Freedom of Assembly:
The CCP does not allow its citizens to assemble in public (or behind closed doors) for the purpose of questioning party leadership or infringe upon the "interests of the state." These are broadly interpreted and the government cracks down at the first sign of dissidence. Those who do protest are often detained indefinitely without charge.
The practice of religion is tightly controlled by the CCP. Religious organizations must register with the government and are subject to constraints on the dialogue they are allowed to conduct. In order to be legal, a religious association must belong to on of the five recognized religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism. There are widespread incidences of unregistered and registered religious groups being harassed, detained, and questioned by authorities.
There are MANY more issues which I could discuss, but I brought these up in order to highlight the guiding principles of the CCP. Essentially, the CCP is very paranoid about its ability to maintain long-term political legitimacy. Some political scientists suggest that a key reason the CCP has maintained viability this long is the belief by the Chinese people that the alternative is a USSR-style collapse in which the civilization will take a giant step backward; they see it as a "CCP or bust" situation.
Additionally, there are some stark philosophical differences between China and the West, most of which I am not qualified to comment. Essentially, our conception of "human rights" is quite different than that of the Chinese tradition. This is NOT to say that the Chinese people aren't demanding some of these basic liberties, such as democratic representation, freedom of speech, etc. There is, however, tolerance of government intervention on a level which would never be tolerated in the United States. Many Chinese believe censorship is all right if it has the goal of making society more harmonious.
On many issues, there are fundamental differences in how each society views civil liberties and human rights, but it's difficult to get a pulse on the preferences of a society which faces punishment for expression of opinion which displeases those who have a stranglehold on power.