Living in China I’ve become intimately acquainted with the ‘Great Chinese Firewall’. At first, I just ignored it. I was only on Facebook and I was never on it very much. I had better things to spend money on than a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
As time went on however, it slowly grated. Not only was Facebook blocked, so was YouTube.
It also wasn’t only particularly popular social media platforms that were blocked.
Some of my favourite blogs were also censored for no apparent reason.
Random sites were also blocked. In any search that I would do – normally at least one or two of the page one results would be inaccessible.
One time I had a student who was interested in animals, so I wanted to bring photos of New Zealand animals to class to show her what they were. I’d had enough of drawing a Kiwi on the board (it did definitely look like a kiwi guys) to have my students call it a chicken. One bird I wanted a picture of was a Moa. Maybe this is also the name of some Tibetan rebel – I don’t know. I only know that it everything to do with ‘Moa’ seemed to be universally blocked. I had to get my Mum to email me a photo.
Then they blocked Google
Combined with the fact that I was finally starting to get my blog properly sorted – I broke down and got a VPN; and had to answer lots of questions to get back on Facebook which was highly suspicious of my shift in locations.
Internet Censorship Avoidance 1: VPN (Virtual Private Network)
There are loads of types of VPNs. They reroute anything coming from your computer to somewhere that is not censored. Replies are sent to the uncensored place and then forwarded to you. This does slow down the internet.
VPNs are also used for remotely connecting to the internet, so they usually aren’t blocked. China certainly tries though.
When I got my VPN I got Strong VPN.
It was recommended as a good fast one. Another option I was told was good was VyprVPN.
Strong VPN is cheaper as long as you want it for 3 months or more (and I did). I also don’t have a Smartphone – which VyprVPN would have been the better choice for.
VyprVPN vs StrongVPN
|FEATURES||Vypr VPN||Strong VPN|
|Free Trial?||3 days||No (7 days money back guarantee)|
|Monthly package||From 9.99 to 19.99USD||Not available|
|Yearly package||From 6.67 to 10 USD (per month)||From 6.25 to 28.5 USD (per month)|
|Desktop Apps||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac|
|Mobile Apps||Android, iOS||Android, iOS|
|Simultaneous connections||Yes (until 3)||No (but discount on a second account)|
|Encryption protocols||PPTP, OpenVPN™, L2TP/Ipsec, Chameleon™||PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN|
|VPN Location’s switchings||Unlimited||15-30 switches per month|
|Countries with servers||36||19|
|Free online storage included||Yes||No|
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with my VPN. Much like I do with all technology.
When it is working – great! I can go into any site, pester more knowledgeable bloggers on Facebook, participate in Twitter chats, go on Google+, listen to music on YouTube, read all the blogs I like ….
When it isn’t working – I want to throw my computer out the window.
Can anyone else relate to this phenomenon?
Sometimes it works part way, as in – it will let me on to Facebook, but it won’t let me on to my own blog. Making setting up Google Analytics on my blog an actual nightmare.
I think most of my problems stem from poor internet connection in general.
One thing I always hear about my home country New Zealand, is that we have terrible internet.
“The scenery is beautiful, there are lots of sheep everywhere, the people were really friendly, they have weird birds … the internet is awful”
Well, I’d just like to say
New Zealand’s internet is crap.
Harbin’s however, is on a whole new level.
So I don’t feel that I can entirely blame the VPN. It does have to have a decent quality connection to work properly.
But it is frustrating when it won’t connect, or drops when it is connected.
So if you are planning to visit places in China where the internet isn’t so good. Maybe try a different one. Mostly Strong VPN is ok, sometimes it’s perfect, other times …. Let’s not go there.
Another possible option if you can read Chinese well is FF VPN. I can’t read Chinese nearly well enough to use it, but some people I work with who have a Chinese spouse or can read the language well enough say that it is really good.
VPNs aren’t the only option of course. If you are staying for while and are planning to become an expat – they are probably the best option. Others include:
Internet Censorship Avoidance 2: Changing the DNS settings
There are two main types of filtering used to censor the internet; DNS and Packet. I’m by no means a tech expert, so on a basic level DNS is the easiest to implement and blocks certain sites on the DNS level. If this is the type you want to try to get around the go here to change your DNS settings in your router or here to change your DNS settings on a single computer.
China uses a combination of methods, so this may work in China or it may not.
For more guarantee of it working, you basically have the VPN option and two other options (that I know of).
Internet Censorship Avoidance 3:Proxy
A proxy is an uncensored part that your computer connects to. The proxy then connects to the site. This is probably the best option to try if you are going to take a short trip, but they don’t always work.
The proxy itself might be blocked, and many are programme specific.
Freegate is the proxy that seems to be the most commonly used in China. It works, but is a bit slow – even for Facebook, so if you want movies maybe try a VPN.
Other Proxy options recommended by travellers and expats include:
Foxy Proxy – Firefox users
Free VPN – windows only
Ultra VPN – works on a Mac
Try to find one that works for you.
Internet Censorship Avoidance 4: Stay invisible
Tor – allows you to surf the net while ‘invisible’. It is much slower than normal internet browsing so I don’t generally use it. My Harbin internet is slow enough already.
Lots of countries block the internet, not just China. Countries that block Facebook for example also include Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Twitter is apparently also blocked in Pakistan, the U.A.E and Egypt.
About 22 countries block some form of YouTube. Check the Wiki list here.
If you are only planning on a short visit to wherever, then it probably won’t bother you. If you are planning to stay longer. Check what options would be best for you.
Have you ever had issues with internet censorship? What was your experience? Do you know of any other good options?