Having spent a few years in China, I understand what a hectic task it is for foreigners to visit websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
If you are an expat boarding the next available flight to China, I bet you already know what a VPN is and what a VPN is used for. If you don’t, permit me to make some suggestions for your benefit.
Why You Need a VPN in China?
Here’s the fact: in Mainland China, the Internet is censored. You might be able to enjoy a very high speed Internet connection, but you can’t just open your web browser and visit websites such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube… and the list goes on. Those sites, no matter how popular they are, are blocked in China.
But people really need to use Google for search, use Facebook to post their cute pictures taken in China and use Twitter to see what’s going on, right? How do they do it in China?
The most popular way of unblocking websites in China is using a VPN.
To my understanding, VPN, or Virtual Private Network, was not originally designed for unblocking websites. It was created mainly to increase online security. But soon people found out that a VPN can be used to bypass Internet blocking! Therefore, in China, if you talk about VPN, most people will think about unblocking websites, not Internet security.
But using a VPN in China is not as easy as you thought.
Why Using a VPN in China Is Tricky?
I have an expat friend who is a tech-savvy guy and he began to work in China about one year ago. He knew about the importance of a VPN in China and decided to build one for himself. So he set up a OpenVPN server in the US and started using it in China. His OpenVPN server worked fine for about a couple of weeks. Then, one day suddenly it stopped working. What happened? His VPN was detected and blocked.
So, the so called GFW (Great Firewall of China) is “smarter” than you think. Not only can it stop you from visiting blacklisted websites, it can also detect VPN traffic and then block it.
You can’t just sign up for a popular VPN service from outside of China and hope you can use it in China. It might not work at all.
But what should I do?
Actually although VPN traffic are heavily blocked and disrupted in China, some VPN service providers have managed to figure out ways to bypass VPN blocking and provide a relatively stable and reliable VPN service for users in China.
I guess many well-known VPN providers think dealing with China’s VPN blocking is too much pain and they just gave up after their service was blocked or disrupted. However, there’re some VPN companies that have decided not to lose the China market and they have been spending a lot of time fighting with China’s VPN blocking. As a matter of fact, some VPN providers even invented special VPN technology just to bypass China’s VPN blocking. Believe me, it’s not an easy job.
What Are the Best VPNs for China?
If you ask people in China to recommend the best VPN, you might get different answers. However, it’s a common knowledge that many well-known VPN does NOT work in China. For those that work OK in China, sometimes you might still run into problems such as dropped connections, slow speed etc., but since they have a team dealing with China, most of the time the issues can be resolved quickly.
Based on my experience, I’d say having one VPN account might not be enough if you live in China. You might need to sign up at least two VPN accounts so that you always have a backup service if the other one fails.
I’ve personally tried a number of VPN services in China. Based on my own experience, I’d recommend the following VPN services for use in China: