If you’re considering a trip, you likely already know of the “Great Firewall of China.” It is the massive technical and legal system that allows China’s government to control and censor the Internet in the country.
Many non-Chinese applications and websites are blocked in China under this system. The complete list of blocked services includes Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp.
GFW can seem very frustrating to most travelers. It can even discourage people visiting the country. You can sometimes get around restrictions with little effort, especially if planning in advance. Here’s how to do it.
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Tables of Contents
Why is China building the Great Firewall
Deng Xioping was a famous former Chinese leader. It was his belief, and one that government officials should be concerned about, that China would face greater outside influence.
The internet was widely available in China by the mid-1990s. In fact, the Golden Shield Project was launched by the government at the end of that decade. This was the collective term for a range of security and surveillance related projects, including The Great Firewall of China.
China’s Great Firewall serves multiple purposes. First, the Great Firewall allows the government to at minimum partially control the flow and distribution of information within the country. The Chinese web keeps to the party line, reinforces government narratives, and silences opposing voices.
Second, the GFW fosters an economic environment that supports homegrown Chinese companies. Chinese companies can flourish with the ban on global tech giants or strict regulation, often imitating and optimizing their strategy to succeed in China.
So, you can search for “Chinese Uber” or “Chinese GrubHub/Seamless”, “Chinese Uber/Didi”, “Chinese GrubHub/Seamless”, (“Meituan and Sherpa’s”), “Chinese Twitter (Weibo),” “Chinese Facebook” (WeChat),” and “Chinese Google Search” (Baidu). We’ve compiled a list almost a dozen of such unblocked sites and apps for China.
Notice: Although the GFW does not apply in the Special Administrative Regions (such as Hong Kong and Macau), Chinese authorities continue to closely monitor traffic in these regions.
How does the Great Firewall function?
The Great Firewall of China, although complex and sophisticated, is very simple from a user’s viewpoint. If you try accessing blocked content in China (e.g. Facebook), the website will not load.
It appears that the website is constantly. It will not inform you that it is censored. But the message clearly states: You’ve been blocked.
So how does the GFW actually function? Chinese authorities have many ways of working. You don’t necessarily have to understand the Chinese authorities to get around them. But it can be helpful to learn what’s happening behind closed doors.
- IP Address Blocking This block access to IP addresses that are not allowed by the IP address blocking . It means the user’s computer can’t connect with the server at the other end.
- DNS Spoofing DNS Poisoning is when your device attempts to access a website via name. A DNS server requests the IP address associated with that particular name. GFW “poisons”, or returns an incorrect or corrupt DNS address, when it receives a DNS response.
- URL filtering – This method filters for sensitive words and phrases and blocks websites that use them.
- Corporate Censorship Chinese companies can be severely punished for sharing prohibited information. These companies often block the sharing of forbidden content on their platforms.
- Manual & A.I. Censorship. Until recently, A.I. and manual censorship were performed manually by Chinese civil officials who would monitor, remove, or edit online content. Artificial intelligence (A.I. ) has taken over censorship in recent times. This work is being increasingly overtaken by artificial intelligence (A.I.).
- VPN block: Since President Xi was elected, the Chinese government has implemented measures to stop traffic looking like it is trying to connect with a virtual private network (VPN). VPN providers actively resist the blockages, but certain VPNs continue to work in China at the time this article was written.
A guide to circumventing China’s Great Firewall
A virtual private network is the best and most efficient way to bypass China’s Great Firewall. You can anonymously hide your location online with a VPN. Although you may be located in Shanghai, your VPN will make it appear that you are in the United States or Sweden.
VPNs, on the technical side, create a private network you can use within a network like the internet. This allows you to hide and secure the data that you are sending and receiving. It is encrypted so that anyone can’t see it, even the Chinese government.
How to get setup.
Before you travel, register with a VPN Service
It can be difficult to install VPNs in China once you have been there. Websites where you can sign up and download the software are often blocked. Many VPN apps have been removed from the Chinese iOS store. Be sure to get set up before you go.
ExpressVPN regularly gets rave reviews. It starts at around eight dollars a month and offers a 30-day refund guarantee. The company operates in more than 2000 locations in 160 countries. They are consistently rated the best VPN service for China.
It can be used as a standalone app or browser extension on a variety of platforms. Up to five devices can be connected per plan. ExpressVPN remains the most popular choice for China. But, there are also other services that work well. ViprVPN costs less than AstrillVPN, which costs slightly more.
Download the VPN
Once you have chosen your VPN provider, download it for all of the tablets and smartphones that you plan on bringing into China. ExpressVPN is available in the following apps: Android, MacOS, Windows Linux, iOS and Android.
Apart from installing it on the devices, you can also use it as a browser extension to Safari . ExpressVPN browser extension allows you to alter your IP address as well as spoofing HTML5 geolocation.
ExpressVPN also provides instructions for setting different types of router so all traffic can go through the VPN no matter what device it is coming from. It’s not necessary for travelers who will be in China for less than a few days or weeks. However, it’s something that you should consider if they plan to stay there for an extended period of time.
VPN plans generally allow for at least two to three devices to be used per subscription. Depending on the number of devices you travel with, you may not have to buy multiple plans.
The VPN is worth a try
Before you leave for China, ensure your VPN is working properly and that it is easy to use. First, open the VPN software through your browser and/or device. Next, choose the server you wish to use. You should connect to Estonia, Iceland, or any other country known for its internet freedom.
After your VPN is up, load some web pages. Some results may appear in local languages when searching engines like Google. This is a good sign as it indicates that the site thinks you are accessing it from a fake address.
If you’re especially concerned about security, you can also test VPN vulnerabilities including DNS, IP address and WebRTC info. ExpressVPN’s open-source testing tool is available at GitHub.
Did you test your VPN? Now, you are ready to go.
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Will My VPN Always Work in China?
China is able to circumvent GFC for many reasons. They use social media in foreign countries, do research, and keep track of global trends. Chinese club members get creative inspiration from Instagram, while Chinese academics rely on open internet access in China for their research.
VPNs are widely used by the Chinese government. Fang Binxing, who was the architect of GFC in China, used one while giving a lecture in 2016. VPNs were okay in China for the most part.
However, things are improving. Since President Xi was elected, the government has taken steps to crack down on VPNs. As a result, many VPNs have become slower, less reliable, or less accessible. Apple took VPNs out of its Chinese app shops in 2017. This means that even the best VPN companies may fail to recognize that what works today might not be effective tomorrow.
When it comes to bypassing China’s Great Firewall, it is worth being informed about the various options. Tor browsers decentralized DNSs that use Blockchain technology and ShadeSocks, which is an open-source proxy that performs differently from a VPN, are all possibilities.
There is no one solution that will work forever. However there are many Chinese people who want access to the Internet in China.