GUIDE

How to Unblock Websites in China

China, Russia, and the DPRK have several commonalities aside from geographic proximity to one another. All three nations were or are ruled under a communist system of governance, and have allied together in the past. They’ve also taken a decidedly conservative, authoritarian position when it comes to a free and open internet for their respective citizenries.

Look no further for proof than the 2015 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Rankings wherein out of 180 countries, all three nations ranked dismally, none more so than China. The economic superpower came sandwiched between second-to-last placed North Korea, and Russia at 152.

The Chinese Government undertook a policy of securing their internet against all forms of perceived cultural avarice called the Golden Shield Project, known colloquially as the Great Firewall of China (GFW). Originally undertaken as a means to filter out websites pertaining to or hosting information on gambling, violence, pornography, and other material deemed too culturally risqué for public consumption – including any form of political opposition – as China transitioned to free market, the GFW’s reach extends further with time. Social Networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are blocked. Additionally, any Google or Yahoo subsidiaries or affiliates including YouTube, or their respective mail clients are inaccessible through a Chinese IP.

Several months ago, tragic explosions ripped through the Chinese city of Tianjin killing 173 people – many of them first responders and firefighters – and injuring countless more. The blasts and wide-ranging scope of devastation allegedly stemmed from the proximity – less than a km – of residential areas and high-rises to Ruihai International Logistics warehouses located in the Binhai New Area port of the city. These facilities had “hazardous and flammable chemicals, including calcium carbide, sodium cyanide, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and sodium nitrate,” according to the BBC.  Damage payments from Reinsurance companies are anticipated to hit north of the $3 billion mark. The full extent of what happened is still being investigated, and judging by the magnitude of the damages might never be demystified.

However, what is conclusive is the flat-out repressiveness against members of the press and ordinary citizens alike. A prolific Tweet (since deleted and it’s in Chinese, so run a translation), from the well-known and respected Caijing Magazine, quoted an interview with a firefighter. The man alleged that no one responding to the scene had any foreknowledge or forewarning that the chemicals involved in the explosion would have additional adverse effects when sprayed down with water. This shroud of secrecy likely didn’t help the situation, if not proving to be an outright obstacle.

“The Chinese authorities should also assess whether China’s laws for hazardous substances and wastes are consistent with international human rights standards, including the right to information … The lack of information when needed—information that could have mitigated or perhaps even prevented this disaster—is truly tragic. Moreover, the reported restrictions on public access to health and safety information and freedom of the press in the aftermath are deeply disturbing, particularly to the extent it risks increasing the number of victims of this disaster.”

Baskut Tuncak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, did not mince his words on the Tianjin situation, while extending insight on the overall choking of media and information channels in China, in the past, present, and future. Tuncak’s words provide a stark contrast to the leaked directives for handling media coverage provided by the State Authorities, as per chinadigitaltimes.net.

Cyberspace Administration of China: Standard sources must be used regarding the explosions in Tianjin’s Tanggu Open Economic Zone. Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media. Websites cannot privately gather information on the accident, and when publishing news cannot add individual interpretation without authorization. Do not make live broadcasts.

Tianjin Propaganda Department: Editors and reporters for city TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and new media work units, including announcers and anchors, must absolutely not privately post to Weibo or WeChat friend circles about the explosions.

Internet Propaganda Office of [Province Withheld]: Top Priority—Remove news and images from the explosions in Tianjin’s Tanggu Open Economic Zone from headlines and recommendations. Tidy up posts. Do not post articles that are not from Xinhua. If such articles have already been posted, please push them to the back of the stage. 

Censorship

According to Reporters Without Borders, and other less biased outlets, mainstream propaganda focused on heroic tales of rescue, and heart-rending accounts of families thought to be broken forever reuniting, at the expense of what the national audience really wanted to know. How and why did these explosions happen, and who was responsible? Many ‘netizens’ expressed outrage at the lack of accurate news coverage and censorship of their posts online.

Tianjin TV

Media Pharoah, a Weibo blog user with over a million followers, criticized Tianjin TV for broadcasting everyday newspaper headlines instead of covering the blast, with a screenshot of the live broadcast included.

What solution is there if you’d like to express your voice freely online, or access information deemed unsafe or inappropriate for you while residing in or traveling through mainland China – where a significant amount of well-trafficked websites are prohibited and vigorously blocked by the Chinese government? You’ll need a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

What is a VPN?

A VPN masks your I.P. address so that the devices you connect to the internet show their location as the US, UK, or anywhere else the VPN provider has servers. Most providers host servers throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, though some also run servers in Latin America, and Australia. Please note, not all VPNs are equally suited to getting through the Great Firewall of China (GFW), more details below.

When should you install the VPN?

VPN software meant for smartphones should be installed before traveling to China, if possible, as the Google Play Store is blocked in China, and many VPN website domain names are blocked as well. Alternatively, you can still install a VPN service while in China, it’s just harder to do so. Once you’ve read over our picks for the top VPNs to use in China and made your decision, it’s time to download and install your VPN following the provider’s given instructions.

You’ve signed up and installed a VPN Client. What now?

Open and run your VPN client according to the instructions given to you, then open your web browser. In the URL bar at the top, type the name of the site you wish to visit then press enter. That’s all!

What is the top VPN for China?

All points considered when looking for a VPN with both strong performance, and encryption, ExpressVPN is the winner. It uses 256-bit security with OpenVPN as the standard protocol. Alternatively, you can use L2TP or PPTP, for faster speeds, though they already provide excellent bandwidth. These are also supported on its mobile apps. ExpressVPN run servers in 78 countries. The important part is that they maintain dedicated ‘stealth’ servers in Hong Kong specifically to circumvent the GFW.

Do note that regardless of the information posted here, or on other review sites, many listed VPNs aren’t working anymore because the GFW is constantly updated and increasingly difficult to bypass – it’s a fluid paradigm. Consequently, it’s best to check beforehand and semi-regularly if a particular provider’s site is blocked.  Read on to see our Top 5 VPN picks for China.

Best VPN for China Summary

Rank Provider Grade Starting Price Link

1

ExpressVPN

Read Review >
$12.95/mo Visit Site >

2

VyprVPN Logo

Read Review >
$14.99/mo Visit Site >

3

AirVPN Logo
Read Review >
$7.86/mo Visit Site >

4

TorGuard Logo

Read Review >
$9.99/mo Visit Site >

5

BolehVPN Logo
Read Review >
$10.00/mo Visit Site >

Winner

ExpressVPN

5/5

  • PROS
  • Fast speed boosted for China
  • Servers in 78 countries
  • 30 day money back guarantee
  • ‘Stealth’ servers in Hong Kong
  • CONS
  • Not the cheapest VPN

We love ExpressVPN because as a large international company it has servers in 78 countries (including Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and West Coast US), it is very fast, it offers a very generous 30 money back guarantee, and it has great apps for both Android and iOS. It keeps no logs of users’ internet activity (although some connection logs are maintained) and allows up to 2 VPN connections at once. Even better for users in China, ExpressVPN offers stealth servers located in Hong Kong that are specially designed to evade the GFW. With lots of funky features, great speeds, and solid reliability, ExpressVPN is a great all-round choice.

Try Out the Best VPN for China Today!

Visit ExpressVPN »

30-day moneyback guarantee

2nd place

VyprVPN

4,5/5

  • PROS
  • Servers in Hong Kong
  • 7 day money back guarantee
  • Up to 3 simultaneous connections
  • ‘Chameleon’ anti-GFW system
  • CONS
  • Pricey
  • Avoid cheaper PPTP-only package

This multinational provider is unique in being the only VPN service to own its own server network. This results in blazing-fast performance, and allows VyprVPN to offer proprietary ‘Chameleon’ anti-censorship technology which ‘scrambles OpenVPN packet metadata to ensure it’s not recognizable via deep packet inspection, while still keeping it fast and lightweight. The Chameleon technology uses the unmodified OpenVPN 256-bit protocol for the underlying data encryption’ to access international websites unhindered.’ VyperVPN also allows a generous 3 simultaneous connections, features a desktop app with a kill switch, and apps for iOS and Android. As with TorGuard, it seems the VyprVPN website is not currently blocked.

Visit VyprVPN »


3rd place

AirVPN

4,35/5

AirVPN Logo

  • PROS
  • No logs at all
  • Transparent service
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • Dynamic port forwarding (port 443), real-time user and server statistics
  • Support for VPN over Tor
  • VPN through SSL and SSH tunnels
  • Good speeds
  • 3 day free trial, uses shared IPs
  • P2P: yes
  • 3 simultaneous connections
  • Server in Hong Kong, 3 day trial
  • CONS
  • none

This Italian provider offers among the best security and anti-censorship technology available on the web, allowing both SSH and SSL tunnelling to evade the GFW (and also supporting VPN through Tor for maximum anonymity, making it a great tool for dissidents.) Add in some of the strongest encryption around, and a Windows, Mac OSX and Linux client with built-in DNS leak protection and a kill switch, and AirVPN should be on the top of every privacy fanatic’s wish list. As with most of the providers listed here, the AirVPN website is blocked by the GFW, but we are told that if you email AirVPN support, they can provide access to the website through a URL that is not blocked in China.

Visit AirVPN »


4th place

TorGuard

3,75/5

TorGuard Logo

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Ve4ry fast
  • Shared IPs
  • SSH tunneling
  • DD-WRT routers
  • Server status information
  • P2P: yes
  • Servers in Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • West Coats US
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • Port forwarding
  • 7 day trial
  • Website not blocked in China
  • CONS
  • Encryption on most servers a bit meh • customer service could be better
  • Based in US

TorGuard uses an adaptation of obfsproxy for OpenVPN. This transforms the VPN traffic so it appears to be regular HTTP traffic, which makes it difficult for the GFW to filter. In addition to this, TorGuard runs servers within mainland China, which it uses to offer secure SSH tunnel services. Other than that, TorGuard offers servers in an impressive 42 countries (including Hong Kong, Japan, and West Coast US), allows up to 5 simultaneous connections, and supports port forwarding. As a bonus, for some reason the TorGuard website is not blocked in China (at the time of writing).

Visit TorGuard »


5th place

BolehVPN

3.5/5

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Fast
  • Great OSX and Windows software
  • P2P: yest
  • 2 simultaneous connections
  • ‘xCloak’ servers
  • Servers in Hong Kong and West Coast US
  • VPN over Tor
  • CONS
  • 128-bit Blowfish OpenVPN encryption could be stronger

Based at an off-shore location somewhere along the Malaysian coast, this provider offers ‘xCloak’ servers designed to allow access through the GFW. We love BolehVPN’s no logs at all policy, plus the fact it has great connection speeds, and servers in Hong Kong and West Coast USA. The Windows and OSX client is also very funky, and features a VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection.

Visit BolehVPN »


Honorable mentions

Other VPN providers reported as working are MyVPN, PureVPN, and Hide My Ass (HMA) (reviewed) and TigerVPN and MoleVPN (not reviewed by us). IronSocket also offers stealth servers.

Best VPN to Unblock Websites in China Conclusion

We’ve gone through our top VPN picks to unblock websites in China, let’s review. The GFW blocks connections to websites for users connecting from China at the government’s discretion, making a VPN necessary to sidestep the controls. Choosing your VPN involves a balance of three factors: price, speed, and server availability, with ExpressVPN a solid option. Sign up to a VPN service below for an unfettered online experience.

Summary

Rank Provider Grade Starting Price Link

1

ExpressVPN

Read Review >
$12.95/mo Visit Site >

2

VyprVPN Logo

Read Review >
$14.99/mo Visit Site >

3

AirVPN Logo
Read Review >
$7.86/mo Visit Site >

4

TorGuard Logo

Read Review >
$9.99/mo Visit Site >

5

BolehVPN Logo
Read Review >
$10.00/mo Visit Site >

*Some parts of this review were written by Douglas Crawford in an earlier post.

Check out our Ultimate Privacy Guide for further information, and let us know of any of updates or blocked VPN providers you come across in the comments below.


Dimitri M Expat in Europe - pathos for good conversation and Italia's Grande Juventus.

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One response to “How to Unblock Websites in China

  1. Iam just back for a week in the west, after being in Beijing for the past 6 months. I havefound that the vyper vpn has not performed well at all in my area of Beijing, since around January. Connection is nearly impossible, and it disconnects constantly. The speeds I have managed to get while connected have been anywhere from miserable to zero. I do not know if my geographical area of Beijing is particularly targeted (Tongzhou), or this is a general problem. Because of this, I have been more-or-less cut off from the outside world, and could not even communicate with the provider. Not a happy customer!

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