Can we use gate in china

How to Access Facebook in China

Western websites are the target of Chinese censorship. Photo: OZ

It's annoying: once you get to China, numerous popular web services stop working. In this post I answer the important questions about the Great Firewall of China.

Do you want to share travel photos on your trip to China with your friends via Instagram or Facebook? Do you want to be able to look up an address on Google Maps? Forget it! The Chinese internet is so heavily censored that it is practically unusable for foreign users.

Read in this article how you can still access Facebook and Co. in China, which solutions are particularly suitable and which are less. I will answer the eight most important questions about the Chinese Internet and its censorship in this article

1.) Am I affected by the Chinese internet censorship?

It is very likely that you, as a traveler, will be severely or severely affected by Chinese internet censorship. It is not the case that only most western social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube are blocked - all sites that you can do without if necessary.

No, practically all Google services are also blocked. So you can't just search on Google. You cannot use Google Maps to find your way around either. You will find it difficult to log in to Gmail, if at all. Android users have to make particularly big compromises: Since Google Play does not work, they cannot install any new apps.

Dropbox or Netflix are also blocked. The Japanese messenger service Line is not accessible at all, while Whatsapp is affected by occasional blocks in front of important propaganda events. Even harmless things like my weather app won't work in China without a VPN.

Fortunately, you can handle many problems with Chinese counterparts to some extent.

  • For internet searches you use bing.de (Microsoft) or baidu.com
  • For navigation, I recommend downloading the offline maps from maps.me in advance. Alternatively, you can also go to ditu.baidu.com
  • You can forward your Gmail account to another account or download it from another account. For example Hotmail
  • Most of the apps can also be found on the Amazon Store, which worked on my last visit to China
  • Tinder can easily be replaced in China with the almost identical tantan
  • You won't need Netflix in pirated paradise anyway.

In addition, numerous websites are blocked for political reasons. For you as a traveler, it doesn't really matter. You can read what Reporters Without Borders says about China before or after the trip. With the exception of Deutsche Welle and the Epoch Times, German-language media are not blocked.

You can use this link to see if your favorite sites are accessible in China. Interesting detail: the program tests access in five different provinces. It happens again and again that a domain is only blocked in one part of the country and still works in others.

2. How do I open blocked pages when I am already in China?

If you are completely unprepared in China and have to open a blocked page as quickly as possible, then you often only have one option: You have to ask a friend abroad to copy the page for you and send it as an email or text message. I often did that myself and was always happy when I found a few friends online via WhatsApp or Skype.

However, you will quickly reach your limits with this option, which is why it is only suitable for absolute emergencies. For example, if you urgently need to access a message in your Facebook inbox, this is of course only possible if you give someone your password. Understandably, you don't necessarily want to do this.

A possible emergency plan is to take a room in an international 5-star hotel. For example the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai. Some of the houses have uncensored internet for guests (possibly also for restaurant and bar visitors). Here you can also install the software recommended below. However, here too the trend seems to be towards more censorship.

3. How do I prepare my technology for a trip to China?

I recommend installing a VPN before you travel. The abbreviation stands for "Virtual Private Network". The best way to imagine how it works is like a tunnel: All data that you receive or send is encrypted and sent to the data highway and only decrypted when you exit. This makes your data tap-proof.

In your case, however, it is more important that the VPN providers have their servers outside of China. So if you set up a tunnel from China to Switzerland, for example, then you can access everything that other people in Switzerland can also see. And suddenly Facebook works in China.

Outside of China, a VPN is installed in seconds: You pay a small amount (usually around 10 euros per month) for a certain period of time and then receive software or an app that you install on your laptop and / or mobile phone . It's all very simple and usually well documented.

In addition to bypassing censorship, using a VPN has a number of other advantages that I have described in this article.

4. What should I look for when choosing a VPN?

There are tons of VPN providers that offer very different products. When choosing, I would recommend not only paying attention to the price, but also to ensure that the overall package is right for you. I consider the following points to be particularly important:

  • Server location: Certain services only work with an IP from your home. I would therefore make sure that your VPN has at least one server in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. As the distance increases, VPNs become slower. Ideally, you have multiple servers in Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan that you can use.
  • Running time: As a tourist, you will usually stay in China for a relatively short time. Many providers have a minimum term of 3 months. Of course, this is not necessarily ideal for you. Also note that many providers automatically extend the term if you do not cancel in time.
  • Protocols: There are different protocols used to set up a virtual network such as PPTP, L2TP / IPsec and OpenVPN, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. In addition, some commercial providers offer their own developments. Basically, when choosing a VPN, it makes sense to ensure that as many protocols as possible are offered.

5. Which VPNs will work in China in 2019?

  • ExpressVPN I currently consider one of the best providers and I am currently using it myself. The provider brings a whole range of different protocols from which the software automatically chooses the best option. Servers are represented in over 90 countries including Hong Kong and all German-speaking countries. According to the company, no log files are created, which guarantees a high level of anonymity. As a small plus, ExpressVPN also works in conjunction with Netflix. However, at $ 12.95 per month, ExpressVPN is the most expensive offering on this list. (Order here..)
  • NordVPN claims to be the most modern supplier in the world. It is not easy to say whether this is true. The fact is, however, that NordVPN masters all important protocols and does not record any logs. NordVPN is regularly praised for its good performance in comments. The provider also seems to work well with Netflix and Co. The only weak point: The servers are only distributed over 50+ countries, with Hong Kong and the German-speaking countries being represented. The provider gets a big plus for its excellent long-term prices: If you book for two years, you can lower the price to around 3 euros per month. The monthly price is $ 11.95 per month. (Order here)

I've used Hidemyass in the past. But since Hidemyass handed over the data to law enforcement authorities, which according to its own advertising does not distinguish it at all, my trust has gone. Whoever lies once ...

 

6. Is there a risk of my VPN being blocked?

In 2018, the government announced twice that it would block all VPN service providers. However, this has not happened to this day and the services recommended in this article are still working as of January 2019.

The censors and the makers of bypass software have an ongoing game of cat and mouse. With more and more new technology, the censors try to prevent access to unpleasant content and the software manufacturers fight against it with at least as much vigor.

Of the free products I used five or ten years ago, hardly anything works today. The paid offers usually have a longer half-life, but are also repeatedly affected by "waves of cleansing" that usually take place before important political events.

For you, this means that there is actually a risk that a VPN will suddenly no longer work during your trip. As a rule, the providers are quite accommodating in such a case and give some of the money back or help you in other ways.

Still, I would recommend installing one of the following free options as well. They're usually slow, but they might be a good backup solution.

7. What free alternatives are there?

A few years ago, the gate network was the big hit. In the meantime, however, it works too unreliably to be able to recommend it. The problem is that China has gradually tracked down most of the hubs and closed them down. With some technical knowledge, you can set up your own hub, which should still work. It's too complicated for me.

Also some time ago, proxy servers were very popular in China. However, on my last trip through China, I could hardly find any that worked. Therefore, the same applies here: If you don't run your own, this option has practically died for you. Freegate is a laudable exception. When you download the program, it will automatically configure the correct proxy server for you. This is particularly useful for less tech-savvy users. However, the connection did not always work for me.

During my research, I kept coming across lanterns. The basic version of the anti-censorship software can be used free of charge. If you want a slightly faster connection, you have to upgrade to the Pro version. However, I have never tested the program myself. I look forward to testimonials.

8. Is it legal to use VPNs in China?

Concerned readers keep asking me if it is legal to use a VPN in China and what to fear if caught. Most worry that their computer or cell phone will be checked thoroughly upon entry.

I don't know of any case in which the police inspected electronic devices without any initial suspicion. That doesn't mean that it never happens. But it is certainly a rare practice. But even in the unlikely event that your electronic devices are examined, you have nothing to worry about.

So far, no case has become known in which the Chinese authorities have taken action against users of VPNs - software providers have so far been arrested repeatedly. It would be easy to set an example among the numerous VPN users.

Personally, I also believe that the government will continue to legally suspend use in the years to come. Enforcing a ban on VPNs would cause massive damage to China as a business location: many international companies depend on secure connections and expats are seldom willing to move to China, even without being completely excluded from the western Internet world.

Conclusion

If you stay longer in China, you will probably not lose a paid VPN tunnel. In general, I recommend installing a free provider in addition to a paid service. Right now, the professional VPNs are faster and more reliable, but it can't hurt to have a Plan B in your pocket.

Notes: This article is based on an older text from 2014 and was extensively updated in February 2019 and June 2017. The text contains affiliate links. If you book a service through it, Sinograph receives a fee that allows me to run this blog. For you the price stays the same.

New to Sinograph? Then the best thing to do is to read the introduction first. If you are interested in topics from the digital world, we recommend visiting our Digital section. We have a China forum for practical travel questions