It is a fairly well documented fact that in China, access to the internet is highly censored. This is sometimes known jokingly as ‘The Great Firewall of China’. Unlike some countries where you may find some degree of censorship preventing you from accessing things like adult sites, sites where you can torrent pirated media and software, or gambling sites, in order to keep with local laws, China’s censorship is politically rather than legally or morally motivated, so you will find even some of the most innocuous (to a user used to being able to explore the web at their leisure) sounding websites and Google searches are unreachable.
Certain keywords will return ‘no results’ on search engines (even though we all know that in 2015 there is basically no search you can do that will return no content from the web!), and things like international news sites or social networks may be banned. In fact, China has its own social networks that comply with the censorship laws, so most Chinese internet users don’t go on things like Twitter and Facebook.
Can You Manage with Just the Censored Internet?
The censored internet in China is intended for Chinese citizens to use, so if you don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, you are already at a severe disadvantage. Of course, you will also struggle if you want things like the news as reported from your own country, or to use all your favourite social networks and forums. If on your trip you only need the internet to do things like find hotels to stay at, book flights, find restaurants, get directions to places and so on, you can probably manage fine using what is freely available in China, but if you want the internet you know and love you will need a way to get around the censorship. The best way to do this is to subscribe to a VPN service and use it every time you access the internet on your trip.
How Does Using a VPN Bypass the Censorship?
A VPN, or ‘virtual private network’, is a service that allows you to access the web through a virtual network that can be located in the country of your choice. This means that as you browse the web, in cyberspace you are not considered to be in China but in your country of origin (or another country of your choice). This means you can access anything that is available in that country, so for example, if you are from the UK and you want to watch the BBC’s On Demand service iPlayer, which is not available anywhere else, you can set up a UK VPN and watch it anywhere in the world – including China. This is how journalists get around censorship when researching and writing in countries with censored internet.
Using a VPN allows you the convenience of using all the web services you are familiar with, even while visiting countries who censor web access very strictly like China.