Although freedoms for the majority in China have expanded, dissidents are still persecuted. The most famous of them, Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel peace prize, remains in jail for no more than advocating peaceful, incremental political reform.
However, the fact of the matter is that authoritarian regimes rule on both fear and loyalty. The CCP has reduced fear and built loyalty. This is how the regime has survived for so long.