The Great (fire)Wall of China


Traveling to China soon? Then you might want to read this article to know how to work around The Great Firewall of China.


If you’re planning a trip to China, you’re most probably already aware of the “Great Firewall of China.”


What is The Great Firewall of China?

The Great Firewall of China is a vast system that allows the Chinese government to regulate and censor the Internet within the country. It stops millions of people from accessing an open and free internet. The list of top websites blocked in China is extensive, including Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, Youtube, Gmail, Wikipedia, Google Maps, Uber, Netflix, and many other popular sites.

Because of this strong censorship and the laws in place, Internet users in China cannot access the same, unrestricted Internet that people outside the country can. People thus turn to tools like VPNs to bypass the restrictions and pervasive Internet censorship.


Why does China have The Great Firewall?

The Great Firewall serves many purposes for the Chinese government.

Firstly, control.

Censorship allows the government to at least partially control the flow of information into the country. The Chinese government ensures that the Chinese Internet sticks to the party line, reinforces the government narrative, and silences dissenting voices.

Secondly, support for locals.

The Great Firewall has fostered an economy that promotes homegrown Chinese companies. With global tech giants banned or strictly regulated, Chinese companies can flourish in their place, often mimicking and optimizing their strategy for the Chinese market. As a result, you can find:

  • Didi > “Chinese Uber”
  • Meituan, Sherpa’s, etc. > “Chinese GrubHub/Seamless”
  • Weibo > “Chinese Twitter”
  • WeChat > “Chinese Facebook”
  • Baidu > “Chinese Google Search”

How does The Great Firewall work?

If you try to access blocked content in China — for example, Facebook — the website simply doesn’t load.

It will appear as if the website is continually attempting to load. You won’t be informed that it’s censored, but the message is clear: you’ve been blocked by the Great Firewall.

There are many methods employed by Chinese authorities. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common methods:

  • IP Address Blocking
    • This approach blocks access to certain IP addresses. This means that the user’s device cannot connect to the server at the other end, which is why no one can access Facebook in China
  • DNS Spoofing or DNS Cache Poisoning
    • When you try to access a website by name, your device uses Domain Name Servers (DNS) to request the IP address associated with that name. However, in China, The Great Firewall “poisons” the DNS response by returning an incorrect or corrupted address
  • URL Filtering
    • This method filters for sensitive keywords, and simply blocks websites based on these words and phrases
  • Corporate Censorship
    • Chinese companies are legally responsible for their online content, and can be strictly punished if they share forbidden information. For this reason, they often block such content from their platforms
  • VPN Blocking
    • The Chinese government implements measures to block traffic that looks like it comes from a virtual private network (VPN). And since President Xi came to power, there has been a general crackdown on VPNs. However, VPN providers actively work against the blocks, and certain VPNs still work in China at time of writing

How to work around The Great Firewall of China?

The easiest way to get around the Great Firewall of China right now is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). With a VPN, you can anonymize your identity online by “spoofing” your location. While you may be in Shanghai, you’ll look like you’re in, say, Singapore or the United States.

From the technical side of things, VPNs help to create a private network within a public network, thus hiding and securing the data you’re sending and receiving. This data is encrypted, meaning the contents cannot be viewed by anyone in the middle — which includes the Chinese government.


Will my VPN always work in China?

The Chinese government is definitely aware that VPNs are commonly used. Historically, at least, VPNs have been sort-of tolerated in China.

However, things are changing. The government has cracked down on VPNs since President Xi took office, and many have become slower, less reliable, and less easily accessible over time. This means that even with the best efforts of VPN companies, what works today may not work tomorrow.

As a result, when it comes to bypassing the Great Firewall, it’s worth staying informed about alternative approaches. 


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