Anyone who lives in China or visited this country knows what the Great Firewall of China is all about. For the ones who don’t know, it is a technical and legal system that Chinese authorities use so they could impose Internet censorship in this country. Because of this system, there’s a large number of sites and apps that are blocked for Internet users in China. Some of the well-known services that are blocked in China are Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Netflix, and so many other apps and websites.
A lot of people that wanted to move or visit China were quite discouraged when they find out that Internet censorship is very serious in this country. But, luckily, you can bypass the GFW, and after reading this article, you won’t have any second thoughts about paying a visit or even living in China. You will get to know what exactly is the GFW, is it even legal to use a VPN provider in China, the best VPNs for China, and much other intriguing info.
1. The Great Firewall of China
Like we’ve mentioned, censorship of the Internet is more than present in China. The GFW is known as the most extensive regime for censoring the Internet, probably on the entire planet. The Great Firewall of China was a part of something that is called the Golden Shield Project. This name was used for a big number of projects that were made for the purpose of surveillance and security of the Chinese residents. There are a lot of reasons for introducing the GFW. One of them was to control the flow of info in China. Another reason was that with the implementation of the Great Firewall of China, the authorities would protect their residents from any potential foreign threats.
Not only do they block sites and apps, but they also block certain keywords by using techniques to scan URLs, and that way, they block traffic of such kind. Keywords related to protests, pornography, human rights, anti-communism, and so on, are blocked with the help of the GFW. Using Internet censorship, they reinforce the narrative of their government and silence the voices who oppose them.
By blocking popular social media platforms such as Twitter, they force the residents of China to use some other platforms like Sina Weibo because that way, they will be able to censor user posts. Some other alternatives to popular networking sites are WeChat ( similar to Facebook), Baidu( similar to Google), and so on. This may come as a surprise to you, but the Chinese government even hires people to promote the Communist Party online, so they could get more and more followers. There are ways to overcome Internet censorship in China, and one of those methods would be to use a VPN service.
2. How does the GFW even work?
How does China control the Internet? Basically, this country controls the Internet gateways where the Internet traffic goes between this country and the remaining Internet. By using a mix of proxy servers as well as firewalls at Internet gateways, they are able to analyze the traffic and use it to their advantage.
This censorship is not that transparent, and you'll see why. Let's say you go and search for a site that is blocked. You won’t see any message that notifies you that this website is blocked. You will see that the website is loading, or you could experience some timeouts and certain error notifications. You could have a hard time seeing the differences between censorship and website issues. Like, did your VPN connection come to a halt because your network was endangered, or did that happen because the GFW stopped it?
Here are some techniques that the government of China is using for Internet censorship:
- DNS Spoofing- let’s say, you’re trying to go on Facebook. Your computer or whatever device you're using is going to use a DNS server, and then, it will ask for the IP address that is associated with that site. Then you'll get a response that is invalid, so you will not be able to connect to that website. So, the Great Firewall of China basically poisons those DNS servers, which results in an invalid address or response.
- Blocking IP addresses- the GFW can block access to IP addresses as well. For instance, even if you want to access Facebook with the help of unpoisoned DNS servers, China will still block you from accessing the IP address of the Facebook servers. Sites that have the exact same address will also be blocked.
- Filtering URLs- the Great Firewall of China will also scan URLs and block any search that had specific keywords related to certain content ( hate speech, dictatorship, protests, etc.) So, the GFW looks at these URLs and blocks sites that have content related to censorship on the Internet.
- Packet Filtering- „ Deep packet inspection“ is something that the government uses so they could analyze the packets that are unencrypted. This way, they are searching for any content that might be seen as sensitive.
- Connection reset- there are certain indications that when the GFW blocks these unencrypted packets, then it blocks any form of communication between two devices for some time. It sends something that is called a „reset packet“ to both of these devices, informing them that the reason for blocking communication was because they were resetting the connection. Which is, as you can realize, a lie.
- Blocking VPNs- Eight years ago, back in 2012, China began to block all VPN providers. So, the Great Firewall of China blocks any traffic that might seem like it would connect to a VPN service.
3. How can you bypass the Great Firewall of China?
The best way and definitely the easiest one to bypass the GFW would be to subscribe to a VPN provider of your choice. If you use a VPN, your online privacy is going to be protected, and you will have complete anonymity once you start browsing the Web with a VPN. If you're located in Beijing, with a VPN it would appear like you’re living in France, the US or some other country.
VPNs secure and hide all the data that you send and receive. That being said, that data will be encrypted, and the Chinese government will not be able to detect what you’ve been up to on the Internet.
So, follow these five steps, and you'll be able to bypass the GFW with ease:
1.) The first thing that you have to do is to choose a VPN provider and subscribe to it when you choose it.
2.) Then, you should follow the instructions that will help you to download that VPN and launch the app on whatever device that you’re using at the time ( laptop, PC, tablet or smartphone)
3.) Then, you should log in by using your username and password.
4.) Pick a certain server that you wish to connect to.
5.) Surf the Internet freely with the VPN
4. Is using a VPN service legal in China?
In the last couple of years, the topic of conversation is whether it is using a VPN legal or illegal. The reason for this was that the government threatened that they would ban all VPNs. This isn’t just a black and white issue.
The question is, why didn’t China block every VPN? The reason is that using a VPN is crucial for businesses in China. Particularly for international companies that do business in this country. Banning VPNs would be devastating for companies because their information would no longer secure be without a VPN.
If using a VPN is illegal, why aren't they arresting every foreigner that has a VPN? No foreigners were arrested because they use a VPN to this day. But, in 2015, in Xianjing, the authorities have come to a decision to shut down phone service for everyone, the locals and the foreigners who used a VPN service. Phones were taken from many people by the police. They deleted the VPN and any foreign apps like Twitter or Facebook from their phones.
After this event, people reinstalled their VPN and apps and had no problems with the authorities.
The conclusion is that there’s no indication that using a VPN is illegal in China.
5. Best VPNs for China
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers in China. The pricing plans are affordable, and the quality of service you get with ExpressVPN is pretty high. This VPN provider was established back in 2009, and it is located in the British Virgin Islands. It has a strict no-logs policy, which means that VPN won’t log your IP address or your Internet traffic. The customer support will be at your disposal 24/7. You will also be secure with cutting-edge encryption protocols. Torrenting is allowed on every VPN server. This VPN will also unblock geo-restricted content, so you can get full access to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu.
If you’re in China for a short time, it would be best if you pick the 30-day money-back guarantee option.
Not so long ago, NordVPN has announced that now they operate from China as well. With this VPN, you will get the best value for a low price. This VPN was founded in Panama, back in 2008. Internet users from China will definitely be delighted to hear that this VPN offers up to a maximum of six simultaneous connections. This VPN has the ability to unblock many streaming services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. This VPN has a zero-logs policy and provides users with unlimited bandwidth. NordVPN is compatible with numerous apps- Windows, Linux, Android, etc. When it comes to security, you will be protected with state-of-the-art encryption protocols and an automatic kill switch.
Surfshark started working in China in 2019. It was established in 2018, and it is located in the British Virgin Islands. This VPN service is ideal for unblocking content from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. So, this is definitely great news for people who like to binge-watch their favorite Netflix shows. Surfshark has a wide range of servers, more than 1000 in over sixty countries. Torrenting and P2P filesharing are allowed. When it comes to upload and download speeds, they are pretty high. You will be well-protected with encryption protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2. Also, there’s the kill switch and split tunneling.
d.) Hotspot Shield
Thanks to the Hotspot Shield, Internet users in China will be able to access blocked websites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google, and many others. The network of servers is huge. This VPN has more than 3200 in over 70 countries. This VPN is more than capable of unblocking geo-restricted content like Netflix and a couple of other streaming platforms. When it comes to privacy, you don’t have to raise any concern because this VPN won't store your connection logs, traffic, or anything that you do on the Internet. You can choose the 45-day money-back guarantee if you're in China for a short time. Apps are available on many operating systems like Windows, Android, Linux, etc.
PrivateVPN was established in 2009 in Sweden. This VPN has a unique feature known as the Stealth mode. Thanks to this feature, you will get an extra layer of obfuscation to your VPN connection. Stealth mode will make your encrypted Internet traffic to seem like it is unencrypted, so the GFW will have an even harder time to detect you. If you're into streaming, you will be happy to hear that PrivateVPN unblocks many streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu. You can use PrivateVPN on many operating systems like Windows, macOS, iOS, and so on. You can also use up to six connections at the same time, but only if you’re using the same operating system.
Residents of China bypass the Great Firewall of China for reasons like wanting to go on foreign social media platforms, making some research, checking the news and global trends. Because of the GFW, many people use VPNs, and the Chinese government is more than keen on blocking VPN services. But, there are many people that want to have online freedom, and they will surely always find a way to surf the Web freely.