Sep 21, 2022, 4:22 pm396 pts
China and censorship have been an iconic duo for some time now. Many would have predicted that countries that score low in democracy would lose their battle to the internet in controlling the national discourse. But, they're putting up a good fight.
It has always been possible for China to block access to websites. They can do this because each Chinese internet user needs an internet provider (ISP), as all of us do. And, if you're providing the internet to users, you're having the activity pass through the ISP infrastructure. Of course, all three ISPs are state-owned, and this is where the Great Firewall of China is built on. Youtube, Netflix, Vimeo, Twitch, and Facebook? All blocked. What they all have in common, of course, is content and conversation from the west.
Do I need a VPN for China?
Virtual Private Networks were a solid workaround for travelers and citizens that wanted to access these blocked sites. They use encryption to connect to a secure VPN server, which is based overseas, and from there visit any site without needing encryption - as long as it's encrypted on its way back between the server and the user.
Almost all travelers will use a VPN, and most Chinese businesses too. And, although it would be difficult to get the exact numbers, millions of Chinese citizens also use them.
The war on VPNs
In China's endeavor to maintain strict control over the internet and all its content, they have begun cracking down on VPNs. Alibaba and four other sites have been asked to remove vendors that sell VPNs.
Local VPNs have also been hit hard, and China has even ordered Apple to remove foreign VPNs apps from their store - well, at least in China anyway. Installing apps from unauthorized places outside of the official app store will always remain possible on Android phones, as well as computers, but this isn't convenient.
There have also been reports of slowing speeds for VPN users in China, but it's not completely understood what cyber tactics China is employing. What we do know is that China spends billions on cybersecurity and is one of the best in the world for it.
How to choose a VPN when visiting China
So we can rule out finding local VPNs in China. And, while we need to tackle the issue of a slow VPN, our priority is security above all else.
Making sure the VPN has great security and privacy features is a must. In fairness, most of the top, credible paid VPNs all share similarly impressive protocols. Please remember, if the product is free, then you are the product. Free VPNs are more likely to sell your traffic data and lack privacy features.
After security, it's all about finding the fastest VPN in China. Knowing how to measure its speed is important, but we need to consider choosing a VPN that is China-specific too. If they're publicly advertising they're useful for China, then they're less likely to be the one that's been cracked down on (yet . . . ). This also says that we should choose one close to when we leave, as the situation can change fast. Recent reviews are helpful for this too.
Common VPN errors and how to fix them
A common question is how to fix a VPN connection. There are several possibilities here, but it may be because you were already connecting to the VPN, then switched WiFi/began connecting to WiFi, and it entered a stalemate. Sometimes you need to disconnect from the VPN to allow for a stable WiFi connection first. It could also be your firewall settings though, or you may need to open some outgoing ports.
But sometimes, hotels can accidentally block the use of VPNs because the right ports aren't open in the router settings. You can't do anything about this, so make sure to choose a hotel that does facilitate VPNs (check reviews), or stay in a place where you have full control over the router settings.
If you're getting an unstable connection, but it is technically connected, then it's time to try a different VPN server. It could also be a poor internet connection at home, which an ethernet connection could help.
But ultimately, what many people have been frustrated with is that the VPN works . . . Until they try to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. Suddenly, it's blocked. You can try a few workarounds like going on Incognito mode, erasing your cache & cookies, and changing to a different server, but big sites like these are pretty good at detecting VPNs. In other words, you may have bigger problems on your plate than China's government, like US tech firms.
Hopefully, new servers within your VPN will crop up and they will work, but it could be temporary. Some VPN providers are better at accessing Netflix than others, so you may have to try a few different VPN providers (thankfully, most offer a 30-day money-back guarantee).