As many people are already aware, China's internet is heavily censored at a national level. The so-called "Great Firewall of China" (officially known as the "Golden Shield Project") was launched in November 2000 and effectively blocks thousands of sites from being accessed in China. Popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogspot and many others are blocked if you try to access them from a Chinese internet connection. Many of these popular western social media services are replicated by sites such as 微博 (Weibo), the huge Chinese microblogging site, which is regularly monitored and controlled by government censors.
Thankfully, Reddit is not blocked in China, and we sincerely hope that it remains this way! Imgur , an image hosting site used widely across Reddit, was partially blocked a while ago, though you can still view images if you change the 'http' at the front of the URL to 'https'.
You can find a great breakdown of how the Great Firewall works along with plenty of other related information in this article on techinasia.com.While there are workarounds for the GFW (see below), it should be noted that the Chinese government are continually upgrading the GFW in order to make it more and more difficult to circumvent. Censorship is especially stringent during particularly sensitive international media coverage that paints China in a negative light, or during times of upheaval such as the recent Communist party leadership shuffle. Therefore, even if a solution currently works well, it is not guaranteed to work indefinitely.
The censorship of the internet in China is not going away any time soon, and in fact the government continues to tighten the noose. In December 2012, new regulations were passed in China that require locals to use their real names whenever signing up for internet or phone-based services (not just for the access itself). The new regulations also permit censors to force service providers to delete pages or posts deemed to be 'illegal information' immediately, and hand over any personal information so that the author can be punished.
The exact definition of 'illegal information' is disconcertingly vague, but generally seems to centre around discussion of sensitive issues such as human rights, corrupt government officials, or whatever information the government currently wishes to suppress.
Netizens on the Chinese mainland should also be aware that during times of particular political sensitivity, the censorship of Chinese internet becomes even more stringent, and the vast majority of foreign news sites will be blocked entirely (or in the case of many Chinese social networking sites like Weibo, censored even more forcefully than usual). One such period that occurs every year is on the 4th of June (sometimes referred to as the "35th May" due to the fact that even references to the date are censored), which is the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Due to the political significance of this date and the fact that every year so many sites go down for 'maintenance', this date is often sarcastically referred to in China as 'Internet Maintenance Day'. Expect patchy internet performance at best on this date and the surrounding days.
Please bear in mind that since this FAQ aims to remain available to people in China without a VPN, we will not be including a guide on setting up a VPN, nor linking directly to VPN sites or configuration. There are many guides available for this kind of thing, though - we suggest that you familiarise yourself with using Google, though since that's blocked here, you might have to bite the bullet and use [Bing http://www.bing.com].
Using a VPN
Main article: What is a VPN?
It is possible to circumvent the Great Firewall by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). For most expats, a VPN is a must-have commodity.
An alternative solution for circumnavigating the GFW is the Tor Project, though this will not be discussed in detail on this FAQ.
Google in China
Main article: Why is Google so slow?
Google and all associated services are purposefully crippled by the Chinese government due to a long-standing argument after Google refused to censor their search results.
Please refer to the main article on Google in China for more information.
Internet connection speeds
While most internet connections in China are painfully slow, many areas are capable of 20 Mbit fibre optic connections. However, the majority of apartments in Shanghai are still operating on 1 or 2 Mbit ADSL connections.
If you find yourself endlessly frustrated by the sluggishness of your home internet connection, call your provider (for China Telecom, call 10000). There will be an English service available - after giving them your customer ID (check your latest bill), tell them that you want to upgrade your internet connection, confirm your address, and ask what is available in your area. They will tell you your available options, as well as monthly fees and how much it will cost to install the new service.
Do note that you will probably need to contact your landlord in order to upgrade, as the telecom company will usually need some paperwork from the owner of the property.
- Attempting to download popular VoIP application Skype in China will automatically redirect you to a special version of Skype, made in conjunction with joint venture partner TOM Online. This version of Skype is made specifically for China, and not only is it based on a much older version of Skype than the one made available to the rest of the world, but is also monitored and censored by Chinese authorities.
If you want to download the proper version of Skype and maintain your privacy, either download Skype from your home country or use a VPN when downloading Skype so you are not forwarded to the TOM version of the application.
- It should be noted that even with a working VPN on a high speed connection, you will still notice visible 'lag' when browsing sites located outside of China. Sites will not immediately pop up; there will be a noticeable delay between hitting "go" and the site appearing. This lag is caused by your connection having to hop from server to server and through the GFW in order to process your query.
- Be aware that browsing the internet in China can often be an exercise in frustration, and complaining about it will not make it go any faster. Please refer to the article on TIC for more information.