You might have heard of the Great Wall of China as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. But have you heard of The Great Firewall of China?
The “Great Firewall of China” as it has become to be known worldwide, refers to China’s systematic and legislative rules regulating access to the internet. The role of the Great Firewall of China is, simply put, to restrict access to a number of foreign websites and to control what information residents of China can have access to.
As the country with the highest population in the world (close to 1.5 billion people), China has close to 25% of the entire world’s internet users. So before we can know how to get around the Great Firewall of China, let’s first see what it is exactly.
The Origins of the Great Firewall of China
The idea of the Great Firewall of China (originally called the Golden Shield Project) started back in 2003, as a way to control the information being looked for and exchanged by users via e-mail or through web searches. At the time, the type of information being “searched for” mainly had to do with politically sensitive language and calls to protest.
As the number of internet users exponentially grew in China, so did the ways to circumvent the restrictions through the use of proxys and other methods. As a result, the methods used to restrict internet access also evolved and now focus on content-filtering firewalls restricting access to particular websites and applications.
What Sites Are Restricted in China?
Instead, China has created its own version of some of these most popular websites in an effort to recreate the same experience for its residents. Websites like Youku Tudou (Youtube), Renren and WeChat (Facebook), and Weibo.com (Twitter) have now become internet giants in China.
Click here for a list of all the websites currently restricted in China. Chances are that at least one of your favorite websites is on that list.
How Are People Getting Around The Great Firewall?
The answer to this is simple: VPNs (or Virtual Private Networks).
VPNs allow you to connect through a server run by a VPN provider, which masks the user’s IP address, thus making it harder to track a user’s identity or location, while also encrypting the web traffic. VPNs make browsing the web both more secure and less restricted.
VPNs have servers in several countries, and some in various locations within those countries. When you log in through a VPN, you appear as being logged in one of those countries where the VPN server is located, regardless of your actual location. So either though you might be sitting in front of a computer in China, you may appear as logged in as somewhere in Japan.
In China, accessing the web through a VPN will allow you unrestricted access to Google, Facebook, Youtube, and all other unrestricted sites. As far as accessing the internet unrestricted in China goes, VPNs are today’s best way of getting around the Great Firewall of China.
Is It Legal to Use VPNs in China?
China has banned VPN services from operating in their countries, however this does not mean that the use of VPNs has been deemed illegal in China. It only means that companies such as ExpressVPN cannot conduct business in China (not that companies that specialize in VPNs would want to).
While the ban posses no threat or inconvenience to someone who already possesses a VPN access before coming to China, it still posses a big inconvenience for someone without a proper VPN connection who is already in Chinese soil. Considering that many of the VPN operator websites are blocked, getting access to a VPN website to create an account might be a tougher job if you’re trying to do this in China.
Which Are the Best VPN Companies?
I did a lot of research on the subject before coming to China. Through much of my research, the same names kept coming back:
- ExpressVPN: Ultimately the VPN I chose, ExpressVPN is deemed to be the fastest and most reliable VPN operator out there. With servers in over 90 countries spread throughout all continents, ExpressVPN provides the best choice in terms of number of servers available to use, and you can connect up to 3 devices with one account.
- VyprVPN: Although a bit slower than ExpressVPN, VyprVPN still offers a wide range of servers in about 50 countries. You can also connect up to 3 devices with one account.
- Astrill: With less servers than its competitors, Astrill is the best 3rd option from all VPN servers to choose from. One big limitation: you can only connect one device per account.
The Future of VPNs and Getting Around the Great Firewall of China
As early as August 2017, China has introduced new regulations concerning VPNs, and asked (demanded) that websites and app stores such as Apple remove vendors that sell VPNs.
Although many of these vendors have removed their product from being purchased by a Chinese IP address, a VPN account can still be purchased outside of China and be “brought in” once installed on your computer or smartphone, thus making the new restriction obsolete.
However it still goes to show what the Chinese government is ready to do to maintain control and sovereignty on the web.
What are your thoughts on VPNs as the way to get around the Great Firewall of China? Thoughts?