Living, traveling, or studying in China can be a life-transforming experience. As with any country, there are some downsides, but one thing that often surprises and annoys visitors and newly arrived expatriates in China is that the global internet simply does not work on an ordinary internet connection:
No Gmail, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Instagram, no New York Times, no WikiLeaks, no Twitter.
These and many other websites are blocked by the Great Firewall, sometimes called GFW by Chinese internet users. The Great Firewall is a finely tuned system of internet filters that isolates China from global news sources and social media, and it’s really good at what it does, which is to prevent you from getting on Facebook or Twitter.
From the earliest days of the Chinese internet, the government has sought to control what comes in via undersea cables and satellite connections. The term “Great Firewall” was coined by scholars Geremie Barmé and Sang Ye in a 1997 article for Wired magazine. Back then, the Great Firewall periodically blocked websites of Western newspapers and broadcasters, and put a hard block on websites of organizations that advocate causes that the Chinese government objects to. However, the majority of internet services available to users in other countries was also available in China, and the Great Firewall was — at worst — an annoyance that was easy to circumvent through simple technologies such as proxy servers.
But with the rise of social media and user-generated content, China’s internet censors adopted a much more hardline approach, and developed increasingly aggressive and sophisticated technologies to make it difficult — or at least more inconvenient than it is worth it to most people — to leap over the Great Firewall.
As long as you are connecting to the internet from China, you are subjected to the blockage regardless of your nationality and how harmless the information you are looking for may seem. As mentioned above, Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are blocked. So, too, is the Google search engine, and also the websites of most major Western news organizations, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and the website you are reading now — SupChina. YouTube and Netflix are blocked. There is no popular global social media platform that remains accessible in China. One of the last to go down was Reddit, which found itself blocked in China last year for no particular reason.
Circumventing the Great Firewall while in China is not overwhelmingly difficult, though. It can be as easy as using a virtual private network (VPN) service. A VPN is a small piece of software that encrypts your internet connection to mask your own IP address and make websites you visit look “safe” to the Great Firewall.
However, the diligent builders of the Great Firewall are perfectly aware that people use VPNs to get around the internet blocks, and regularly target popular VPNs, often succeeding in blocking them. There are no free VPNs that work reliably, and many of the paid VPNs are flaky in China, too, even if they are stable when used just to mask your IP address in the U.S. or Europe.
NordVPN is one of the few premium VPN providers that is virtually always available in China. The company dedicates engineers to ensuring China-based clients are properly cared for. This is essential because like all other VPN providers in the market, NordVPN is subject to government-led crackdowns at times, especially when big political events take place in the country. For example, ahead of this year’s Two Sessions — China’s biggest annual political gathering — in Beijing, user connections to the servers were disrupted more regularly than usual. To ensure good user experience, NordVPN updates its services frequently and offers award-winning customer service agents who are available 24/7.
NordVPN also has a strict no-logs policy and is equipped with Obfuscated servers, which allow you to circumvent internet restrictions such as the Great Firewall. The Obfuscated servers feature is especially useful in China, where it works as a “plan B” mechanism looking for alternative ways to connect to VPN whenever the standard method fails. In addition, NordVPN is powered by P2P-optimized servers, which makes it particularly appealing to users in China.
Do yourself a favor and get NordVPN today. It will — once and for all — save you the hassle of trying out multiple dysfunctional VPN services before finding the right one and grant you reliable access to whatever forbidden websites you want to visit.