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Xi Jinping's era has been depicted as that of an unprecedented crackdown on the media and the public sphere. From intensified censorship to magnified propaganda, the past five years signal a shift towards more control, and some argue, a reversal of openings that existed under the Hu-Wen leadership. This article demonstrates that despite the tightening of political boundaries, journalist-state relations still employ "guarded improvisation," with authorities adjusting their restrictions in accordance to shifting circumstances, and with some journalists and social media users continuing to use innovative ways to publicize issues of high concern to Chinese citizens. While the space for critique has shrunk, it has not been completely obliterated, and we continue to see creative responses from the bottom-up that initially grew out of the pre-Xi era.