If there’s one thing that has literally kept me awake at night before moving to China, it’s the censorship in China. While I really don’t care about politics at all, the part that has me worried is the censorship of the internet. We have all heard of the Great Wall of China. But there’s also the Great Firewall of China. China has the most restrictive internet in the world, where they block over 8,000 domains. While most of those websites aren’t of interest to me, they also block essentially every site that I do use!
Here’s just a partial list:
Google related: Gmail, Google+, Google Hangouts, Google Search Engine, Google Play, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Calendar
Video: YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix
Social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, WordPress.com, Blogspot, Blogger, Flickr, SoundCloud, Whatsapp
News: The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg, Reuters, many pages of Wikipedia
Other: Dropbox, Skype (not blocked, but so slow it’s useless, and monitored by third parties)
Porn: Every porn site (OMG, what am I going to do?)
While I don’t use everything on that list, much of what I do use is on that list! I use all of those Google products. This blog is run on WordPress (along with most blogs in the world, 60% market share, over 239 million websites). Priya and I both spend a lot of time watching YouTube for entertainment or learning. We use Google Hangouts for free VoIP calling anywhere in the USA…we listen to music on SoundCloud…we use Wikipedia for research.
VPN to the rescue
It’s fairly common knowledge that a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a great way to get around the Great Firewall of China. I’ll spare you the geeky technical details of what it is and just say that it hides what you are doing on the internet, and allows you to tunnel through the firewall to access these blocked websites. Well, that seems quite easy and solved, right? Not so fast. China told their state-run internet providers that they had to block all personal VPNs by February 2018. So now what? Have they done so? Are any VPNs still working from within China?
OMG, what are we going to do? How can we go on with life without access to all of those websites? How do we prepare for this? I really don’t think I can have my same quality of life without access to these websites. This is unacceptable. Should I tell my employer that I’m cancelling this expat assignment? Yes, I know… first world problems. But you’re right. I think most of us take for granted our freedom of speech and our unrestricted access to information.
Of course I wasn’t going to cancel my expat assignment. It’s too great of an opportunity. So I have to develop a plan. Of course, I turned to the internet for research. I (Google) searched recent updates to see what VPNs still work after the ban. Good news. It would seem that the ban didn’t really affect many of the popular VPNs. I also asked some Chinese-nationals that I know. The bad news is that they’re giving conflicting information, claiming that the best VPNs arem’t working well. Okay, I need a plan, and a back-up plan, and a back-up to the back-up. We really don’t want to give up our internet!
I plan to subscribe to at least 3 different VPN providers. Yes, subscribe. As in pay for. I’ve heard that the free ones don’t work at all in China. Because I’m so freaked out about the possibility of any one VPN not working, I have to have backups. I can’t wait to get to China to subscribe to these services either. They block the websites where you sign up for service! Therefore, I need to have my plan in place, subscriptions started, and all of their apps downloaded on our Android phones, iPhones, tablets, and laptop computers (all 3 that we are bringing). Yes, we rely heavily on our electronic devices.
Only 3 at a time
Many of these VPNs only allow you to use their service on 3 devices at once. With 3 laptops, 3 phones, a tablet and two ChromeCasts, that won’t work. This is where a new home WiFi access point comes to the rescue. There are a few access point devices that allow you to run a VPN client. You connect your home WiFi device to the VPN service, which only counts as one device, but all of your electronic devices in your home connect to your WiFi and doesn’t count as individual devices connected to the VPN. I also mentioned ChromeCast. For those not familiar with these devices, they connect to your TV, and allows you to wirelessly play videos. We use them to play YouTube videos or our home theater TV shows and movies. I’m planning on bringing two of these to China, but because they need to contact Google, they don’t work in China. Unless your home WiFi access point has a VPN client built in. Problem (hopefully) solved.
I’ll find out in a week or so if this plan will work. Wish me luck. If you don’t see any more blog posts, Facebook updates, YouTube video uploads, VoIP phone calls, Hangouts IM chats, or emails from my Gmail account, you’ll know that I failed miserably.