You can’t watch YouTube in China thanks to the Chinese government’s censorship program. But millions of people, Chinese and expats alike, count on YouTube for entertainment, information, and a connection with the world. This guide will help you understand how to unblock YouTube in China.
After a quick introduction to virtual private networks, we’ll see how companies like StrongVPN help people bypass China’s censors and why China blocks companies like YouTube in the first place.
What Is A VPN?
Virtual private network services (usually shortened to VPNs) create private connections to the internet. They started out as a way for traveling employees to connect to corporate networks securely. Today, they are more widely used by individuals to protect their online privacy.
Why People Use VPNs
Many people around the world use VPN software to make their internet connections more secure. Public hotspots at coffee shops, hotels, or airports are wide open – everyone who connects to the Wi-Fi shares the same network connection. Relatively easy-to-find tools let hackers use those shared connections to steal passwords and other personal data.
Privacy is another reason people use VPN software. Some people don’t like the way marketing companies track every aspect of our lives. A VPN connection helps mask the digital breadcrumbs we leave when we surf the web. Or, they may live in countries without any protections for freedom of speech or the press.
For people who live in countries without any protections for freedom of speech or the press, a VPN is the only safe way to learn about the outside world or express themselves without the authorities tracking them down.
It’s the combination of privacy and security that makes VPN software a popular choice for millions of people around the world.
A Tunnel Through The Internet
The first step VPNs take to create that private network connection is something called tunneling. The VPN software running on your device connects to servers run by the VPN provider. It then routes all of your web browsing through those servers.
Somebody watching your internet connection will see your device exchanging data with the VPN servers, but will have no idea that you are posting to Facebook or streaming something from YouTube.
A VPN provides extra security by turning the data traveling back and forth between your device and the VPN server into gibberish. Military-grade techniques scramble the data at one end and piece it back together again at the other end. Without knowing the decoder routines, anyone who steals your data will need a supercomputer running non-stop for centuries to piece it back together again.
The combination of tunneling and encryption gives people the secure, private connection they need. But some VPNs have more to offer than others.
AddonHQ recommends StrongVPN for anyone who needs to unblock YouTube in China. It has a large, global presence and technologies that keep it one step ahead of China’s censors.
StrongVPN is one of the leading VPNs when it comes to bypassing censorship in China. Over the past twelve years, it has built a massive operations and support system that spans the globe. Facilities in twenty-two countries host more than five hundred servers.
That large number of servers and global distribution gives people in China a lot of choices – and makes it harder for China’s censors to identify their use of VPN software.
Tunneling And IP Filtering
One of the ways China’s censors block the internet is something called IP filtering. Each packet of data that your browser sends includes a numerical internet protocol (IP) address which lets routers know where to send it. IP filtering compares these addresses to a list of banned addresses. Then it just refuses to forward the data.
StrongVPN takes each packet your device creates and addresses it to StrongVPN’s servers outside of China. Once there, the packet gets unpacked and passed on to the internet. When data comes back from YouTube or wherever, the servers mask those packets and pass them back to the StrongVPN app on your device. Thanks to tunneling, China’s IP filters never see the YouTube internet protocol address.
StrongDNS And DNS Filtering
Another way China blocks access to YouTube and other social media is through DNS filtering. Where computers use numerical IP addresses to know where things are on the internet, we use domain names like www.youtube.com. The Domain Name System is the internet equivalent of a phone book that matches the names we use to the numerical IP addresses computers understand. The DNS system in China, however, will not make those matches for websites that China’s censors have banned.
StrongVPN includes a service called StrongDNS to get around that. When you set your Wi-Fi router to use StrongDNS, every device on your network will use StrongVPN’s servers to convert domain names into IP addresses rather than the censored Chinese DNS servers.
Encryption And Packet Inspection
Packet inspection is another censorship technology that China relies on to control what its citizens see on the internet. It looks at the data inside the packets your browser creates and can tell whether the packet contains bits of emails or bits of YouTube video. If it spots banned words or content, then it blocks that data from getting through.
StrongVPN’s powerful encryption technology prevents China’s censors from inspecting that data. By default, you get to use the same kind of 256-bit encryption used by the United States government, but StrongVPN goes a step beyond. It lets you set the encryption level all the way to 2048-bits – a level that the most powerful supercomputers in the world need millennia to crack.
Finally, StrongVPN protects its users by making sure government-sponsored hackers can’t get information on its customers. StrongVPN’s zero logging policy erases all records of your web surfing. Even if Chinese hackers break into StrongVPN’s systems, there is nothing to connect you to particular websites or YouTube videos.
StrongVPN makes it easy to give its service a shot with a five-day money-back guarantee. You can give StrongVPN’s service a shot. If it doesn’t work for you, then StrongVPN will refund your money no-questions-asked.
StrongVPN offers three subscription levels for different types of customers. If you are going to be traveling in China for a few weeks, then a $10 month-to-month plan would make the right choice. If you will be studying in China for a semester or two, then the quarterly plan would be a better option. The annual plan makes the most sense for anyone moving to China to work. It also offers the biggest savings, so that’s something to consider too.
The services you get with each subscription level are exactly the same. Multiple tunneling options, through-the-roof encryption, StrongDNS, and zero logging are standard features available to all of StrongVPN’s customers.
Mobile and Desktop Platforms
You can get apps for Windows and Mac OS directly from the StrongVPN website while the mobile apps are available through Apple’s iOS App Store or the Google Play Store. If you haven’t signed up already, in-app purchases let you choose your subscription at the same price you get on the web.
There is one catch on mobile. You will need to get the mobile app while you are outside mainland China. The Google Play Store is not available in China because of ongoing issues between China and Google we’ll talk about later. A few months ago Apple removed VPN apps from its China app store after China passed a law banning VPN companies that don’t register with the government.
StrongVPN gets high marks in the app store reviews for the quality of its technology, the high bandwidth speeds it delivers, and its customer support. You can get even more insight on StrongVPN’s website where more than nine hundred people in China have left mostly positive reviews.
“Over the past year I have really been enjoying using strongVPN so that I can visit google, youtube, facebook and so forth. I am really not a political person, but the great Chinese internet wall is certainly killing me, until I get the help form strongVPN.” Qian X.
“I live in China and need VPN to access blocked sites such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Google and the like. “ Sumelika B.
“Most sites that provide the comforts of home are blocked, therefore I need to use the VPN service for everything from watching movies, and accessing YouTube, to doing my online banking and accessing personal/business email accounts.” Christopher B.
Why Is YouTube Blocked In The First Place?
YouTube is not alone in being blocked. Most of the western internet companies have gotten on the wrong side of China’s censors.
China’s Communist Party has always controlled the media in China. It wants to make sure its people don’t get exposed to facts or ideas that might undermine its rule. When the internet came on the scene, China just extended that control.
A system of laws and regulations make up what the Chinese government calls its “Internet Sovereignty”. They say that the State has the right to decide what people in mainland China are allowed to see or say on the internet.
The technologies from IP and DNS filtering to packet inspection combine to form what people call the Great Firewall of China. Search engines will not return results for banned terms, social media companies will bar conversations about sensitive subjects, and even entire websites can get blocked. That’s what happened to YouTube.
YouTube Gets Blocked
Back in 2008, a wave of civil unrest and ethnic violence swept through the Chinese province of Tibet just a few months before Beijing was going to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Chinese authorities responded quickly and harshly. Thousands of people were arrested and hundreds were killed.
As videos of the violence made their way onto YouTube, the Chinese government briefly cut access to the video streaming service. Then in 2009 supporters of the Dalai Lama outside of China posted videos of a man allegedly beaten and killed by Chinese security forces. Chinese censors blocked YouTube again and it has been unavailable to anyone in mainland China ever since.
How Can You Tell What’s Blocked?
The blocks on large internet services like YouTube may be permanent, but China’s internet censors are not always focused on smaller companies. Sites like GreatFire monitor the state of the internet in China and can let you know when sites get blocked.
What Else Is Missing?
YouTube is not the only internet service that you can’t reach in China. The censors blocked all of Google’s services after Google announced it wouldn’t censor content in China. You can’t check Gmail or search Google Maps. University professors can’t even use Google’s academic search engine. China blocks all of the major social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Just a few months ago, China’s internet censors banned Pinterest.
Western media companies are frequent targets of China’s censors. Web pages with articles about corruption or the Tiananmen democracy protests get suppressed all the time. Wikipedia’s China site and the Internet Archive have also been targeted by China’s censors.
Many of these are essential services for non-Chinese visiting or living in China. They are also essential services for many Chinese who need to be connected with the rest of the world. Thanks to services like StrongVPN, all of these people have options to unblock YouTube in China and get access to the rest of the missing internet.