Daily Life Expat Life

What every traveler needs to know about the Great Firewall


We all know China has two Great Walls, right? The first one we think of is the one that attracts almost 11 million visitors each year, this is the one you need to climb when visiting China. The other one is the Great Firewall. This is the Great Wall China puts up in order to prevent people from using sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many others. In this article, I will explain why China does this and I will give you ways to get around ‘The Great Firewall’ so you will still be able to use all sites.

What is the great firewall of China?

The great firewall of China has been around for about as long as the internet in China. So what is the great firewall of China? How do you get around it, and what is the purpose? First, let’s take a look at what it is; the great firewall is a censorship system called The Golden Shield Project (金盾工程). Its sole purpose is to block websites and information that is deemed inappropriate by the central government.

There are 3 main ways in which the system is controlled and operated. (1) IP blocking; (2) DNS hijacking; and
 (3) keyword content inspection/filtering. According to Open Democracy, there are only eight internet service providers in China, which allows the government greater control over what information is allowed into the country.

Why does China block these sites?

There are mainly 2 reasons China blocks the majority of the social media sites. First of all, China wants to protects its local brands and improve their market value. The central government has effectively blocked all major internet players and built major clones of the sites which has allowed China based businesses to profit. If there is a major western site than there is a major Chinese clone. Examples: Youtube = Youku, Google = Baidu, Tweeter = Weibo, Amazon = T-Mall, Whatsapp = WeChat, PayPal = AliPay, the list goes on and on.

Controlling the content is the second reason, often given, for why China is blocking so many western sites. News about other countries can get into the country through media and this news can influence the Chinese society in a negative way. A good example of this is what happened to Instagram in February 2014. Before this date I was able to use Instagram without any problems. But not long after the demonstrations in Hong Kong started, the Chinese government decided to block Instagram as there was uncensored news about these demonstrations coming into the country.

Overall, the Chinese that are interested in knowing more about the ‘outside’ world will find that information with or without the Great Firewall of China. My opinion is the Great Firewall of China is a program designed to protect and promote the Chinese IT sector.

the Great firewall

Not only China is stopping me from using certain sites. Cats like to do so too.

How do you get around the Great Firewall of China?

Now that we have a better understanding of what it is and how it works, let’s talk about different ways to get around it. If you are a foreigner living in China or just traveling, the great firewall can be a major headache and you will probably want to get around it. The easiest way to do this is by using a VPN (virtual private network) and there are many available. I have used a few in the past, so, I will share my experiences.

When I first came to China I was a newbie and I didn’t know anything about internet censorship. So, I started to use a free VPN called FreeGate and that worked okay at first but after time it wasn’t cutting it for heavy internet usage. My next step in internet freedom was Panda Pow. Panda Pow really was the next step, it worked better then FreeGate but I still had trouble watching YouTube videos and sometimes it had problems connecting to the outside servers. It wasn’t until I moved to Beijing and started working for an IT company that I found a reliable VPN and decided to invest the money. Nowadays, I use Astrill and I have few problems accessing the internet.

Travelers Accessing the Internet in China

Travelers using a VPN, like Astrill, are usually pretty safe to go about their business. According to the laws in China, anybody using a VPN should register with the government, but most travelers will not get into trouble unless they spread “unwanted” news or information about the central government. If you are traveling or you are an expat living in China there really is no reason to run your mouth about the Chinese government. Chances are you don’t know how it works and you are just sharing others opinions you loosely agree with to sound smart or informed.

This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on one of the links and decide to buy something, we could receive a very small percentage commission, at no cost to you.

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  • Reply
    June 13, 2015 at 2:43 am

    Express VPN works well for us in Guanghou. Also, we find Bing to be a great alternative to Google.

    • Reply
      Miguel Roberg
      June 13, 2015 at 2:54 am

      Thanks for letting us know about Express VPN, Astrill is still working but with all the crack downs on the internet lately, it is good to know of other VPNs.

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