Are you travelling to China anytime soon? If you've been paying attention to the news, you probably know that it's getting harder and harder to bypass the censorship restrictions enforced by the Chinese government.
The Chinese government is cracking down on software that has allowed Chinese residents to enjoy a degree of internet freedom in the past. At the end of July of 2017, China told Apple to remove all of its VPN apps from the App Store. And if the lock-down continues, even more extensive measures may be on the horizon.
Fortunately, certain VPN providers are still successfully staying one step ahead of the Chinese government. These VPNs still work so long as you install them on your device before you cross the border. If you wait until you enter China, you may have trouble signing up and getting access to the download.
In this tutorial, we'll show you what a VPN is and how it can help you bypass government censorship in China, along with some additional background on China's censorship situation. Let's get started!
The best way to unblock censored websites in China
The best solution for accessing blocked websites in China is StrongVPN. It's a simple yet powerful app that you can install on almost any computer or mobile device. Using encryption technology, it connects you to secure servers located all over the world. Once your computer makes the connection to one of those servers, you'll be able to access any website that's accessible wherever that server is physically located.
How to unblock censored websites in China
If you want to access restricted websites while in China, StrongVPN is your secret weapon. We recommend that you get StrongVPN before you cross China's borders. It's the best VPN we know of for getting around internet blocks.
Allows you to blend in
Unlike many VPN services, StrongVPN has a special feature that's specifically designed to help you blend in with other internet users while connect to its VPN: obfuscation mode.
Without obfuscation, the Chinese government will be able to detect that you're using a VPN. But with obfuscation mode on, it's very hard for anyone to know that you're using a privacy tool.
Quick to adapt
Occasionally, China manages to block out StrongVPN. But when that happens, the company is swift to react by changing the IP addresses on their servers.
Some VPN services never change their IP addresses, but StrongVPN switches its IP addresses on a routine basis and immediately after major VPN crackdowns. This makes it difficult for the Chinese government to keep StrongVPN out of the picture.
Access exclusive USA content from anywhere
We've used StrongVPN many times in the past to access blocked entertainment content that's normally only available inside certain regional zones. Check out the articles below for more info about more things you can do with StrongVPN.
Get your 5 day trial of StrongVPN
The best way to get familiar with StrongVPN is to test it out yourself. It's very easy to install and configure. But if you need help installing the software, scroll down for screenshots and setup instructions.
China vs. the internet
In order to stop its citizens from viewing certain sites, China has implemented what some people are calling the "Great Firewall of China." In many respects, the "Great Firewall" has a lot in common with the typical tools that most companies use to control their office internet connection. If you use the right kind of VPN, you can manage to find your way around China's censorship system.
A gigantic, irresistible market
Companies that are allowed to access the Chinese market can make huge profits. That's why many American corporations have had a difficult time saying "no" to whatever the Chinese government tells them to do.
Several large, popular brands have opted to help the Chinese government suppress the web.
“I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night," U.S. representative Tom Lantos, addressing leaders from Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Cisco
In order to make sure that they can continue to operate in China's humongous market Google, Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Facebook and other companies have caved in to many of the Chinese government's requirements regarding censorship. As a result of their cooperation and assistance, the Chinese government has had a great deal of success in delivering a squeaky clean, controversy free version of the web to its citizens.
China's new leadership
American companies hope that with time, China will grow more tolerant. They believe that their presence in China will influence the communist country to become more progressive. However, the recent news events coming out of China suggest otherwise.
China's new leader Xi Jinping seems determined to keep his country from evolving into a democratic nation. Under his rule, the infamous "Document Number Nine" was distributed to all the most prominent communist party members. Document Number Nine describes Western ideals like constitutional democracy, civil society, liberalism and a free press as "very real threats" to the Communist party's dominance.
The communists want to stay in power, and they feel that in order to do that they must keep the people isolated from the rest of the world.
Top 3 banned websites
Even though Facebook, Google and YouTube have cooperated with the Chinese government in the past, all 3 sites are inaccessible from inside of China.
Just as we suspected, Facebook is still banned in China. But that may change soon. Facebook recently rolled out new censorship tools that will allow China to police and control Chinese Facebook users.
After agreeing to censor search results in 2005, Google set up shop in China and established the domain "google.cn." But in 2010, Chinese hackers attacked Google's servers and stole Google's source code. This angered Google and caused them to withdraw from the country. Today none of Google's services are accessible from within China.
The Chinese government blocked YouTube in 2008 because someone uploaded footage of a protest in Tibet. After the protests ended, China briefly restored access. But in 2009, footage of Chinese authorities beating up on a group of Tibetans made its way to YouTube and China restored its YouTube blocks. YouTube left China permanently the following year when Google shut down its Chinese operations.
Identify more banned sites
In order to find out which popular internet sites are banned in China, we used greatfirewallofchina.org-- a censorship detection tool created by a non-profit group of web designers, documentary film directors and journalists.
How the "Great Firewall of China" works
There are 4 main aspects of China's Great Firewall: DNS blocking, connection blocking, keyword blocking and page scanning.
Domain Name Service (DNS) blocking
Domain servers translate a web server's IP address into a recognizable name. If there were no domain name servers, you'd have to type in the IP address of every website you want to look at.
To understand how the names of websites are actually numerical IP addresses in disguise, you can use an IP address tool to pull up the IP address of a popular website. Once you get the number, you can visit the site by simply copying and pasting it into your web browser.
For example, the Facebook server nearest to my location is 18.104.22.168.
When I type 22.214.171.124 into my browser, it pulls up Facebook.
DNS blocking is a primitive way to control internet access, but it works. China simply forbids name servers from carrying the names of the websites that it doesn't want its citizens to see. As a result, China's domain servers don't even know what "Facebook.com" is supposed to mean.
URL keyword blocking
There is no way to check out every single site on the web. So to save time, China's censors automatically filter out websites based on their URL. Websites that contain "offensive" words in their name (like studentsforafreetibet.com, for example) don't have to be manually blocked because China's URL keyword blocker will catch them automatically.
If DNS blocking and URL blocking were the only techniques in use by China's censors, you might still be able to access Facebook if you knew which IP address to type into your browser. In order to prevent that from happening, China uses IP blocking to prevent its citizens from accessing certain IP addresses.
If you were located in China and you typed a forbidden IP address into your browser, you still wouldn't be able to get to the site. Instead, you'd get a Your connection has been reset error message. China's "Great Firewall" automatically breaks up attempts to connect to certain sites.
Page scanning is China's creepiest censorship tactic. China has surveillance software that can scan the webpage that you're looking at to see if it contains words that the government may not like. If the probe detects something "unsavory," it interferes with your connection and prevents you from accessing the site.
Blacklisted keywords in China
- General concepts: democracy, human rights, anti-communist, dictatorship, despotism, etc.
- Events: Tiananmen Square massacre, Chinese democracy movement, etc.
- Tibet related: Tibetan independence, Dalai Lama, etc.
- Dissidents: Tank man (the unknown protester that famously stood in the way of a tank), Jung Chang, etc.
- Anti-government news sites: China News Digest, Voice of America, etc.
Source: The Washington Post
Tunneling through the Great Firewall with a VPN
The Chinese government is very worried that Virtual Private Networking technology will open up a leaky hole in the Great Firewall that they won't be able to close. That's why the government recently strong armed Apple into deleting all of the VPN apps in the Apple App Store.
By making VPN apps harder to get, the Chinese government has made it harder to sign up for VPN services. However, they have not been able to stop pre-existing VPN customers from using their VPNs.
The best anti-censorship solution for China
StrongVPN is already a popular choice of VPN for visiting China, which is why the company's website boasts that StrongVPN is "the best VPN for China."
Here's a step-by-step breakdown of everything you need to do to set your computer up with VPN access before you visit China.
Step #1: Sign up for a StrongVPN account.
The first thing you have to do to get the StrongVPN client is sign up for an account. You can pick from several different membership packages.
Step #2: Get your password
After sign up, StrongVPN will automatically send you your login credentials via email. Your first password will be randomly generated, but you can always change it to something that's easier to remember later on.
Step #3: Download and install StrongVPN
After you'll log in, you'll reach a screen that looks like the one depicted below. Click the section labeled "StrongVPN Client" to get to the software download page.
After you pick the operating system that corresponds to the one you're using, you'll be able to download the StrongVPN installer to your desktop. From there, just follow the wizard's instructions to complete the installation process.
Step #4: Open the StrongVPN client and login
The first time you open StrongVPN, you'll need to type in (or copy-and-paste in) your login information and password.
Tip: If you opt to allow StrongVPN to save your credentials, the next time you open StrongVPN you'll be able to login with a single mouse click.
Step #5: Select a server from the server list
Once you've connected to a StrongVPN server, you should see an flag of the country that you're connected to. You should also see the VPN STATUS: CONNECTED message to the right of the flag.
Step #6: Activate scramble mode
StrongVPN's scramble mode adds an additional layer of anonymity when you surf the web. Navigate to "Advanced" under the settings menu, and click the menu entitled "Scramble." Then, choose the "Obfuscate" option from the list to prevent China's servers from detecting that you're using a VPN.
Lisa Holden • Editor
Lisa Holden is an editor and creative based in Houston, TX. Lisa holds a BA in African-American Studies from Temple University and has spent her career working in news publications and magazines, even founding a magazine herself. She began working as an editor for Flixed in 2023. When she’s not editing or working on one of her many creative endeavors (whenever that is), she enjoys traveling to new places and biking on sunny days.