Modern internet and mobile phones has made it a lot easier. Twitter, SMS and other new facilities allowed the people on the ground to get word out far faster than the government could control. It seems that they have actually learned some important lessons, though there are differing viewpoints regarding the extent of these lessons:
Spiegel.de says "Schools collapsed like houses of cards, apartment blocks were reduced to dust. The horrendous earthquake in China's Suchuan province underscores problems with shoddy construction in the country. State television may be full of images of people in mourning, but any questions of responsibility are taboo."
Contrast their report with Wired News who says "A fast-moving network of text messages, instant messages and blogs has been a powerful source of firsthand accounts of the disaster, as well as pleas for help and even passionate criticism of rescue efforts."
Spiegel is a relatively straight-faced news site, where Wired is definitely a pro-technology news source, so perhaps their perspectives are expected. The true story, it seems, lies somewhere in the middle: News gets out fast, but is deleted (harmonized as the locals say, referring to the government's claim to be promoting harmony by censoring things they don't want to be heard) soonafter.
Local media's encouraged to report the news from a specific viewpoint. Talk about the troops and how they're helping, don't talk about how it took three days to get them into the area. Talk about the tragedy of being killed by falling buildings, but don't talk about how these gbuildings are part of an endemic quality-control problem in the country.
Still and all, it's a damn sight better than Burma's reaction to their calamity: "Lol, wut?"
Here are some links to images of the earthquake's aftermath: