Public awareness of the Communist dictatorship in China has grown significantly of late.
It is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) we have to thank for the coronavirus pandemic that has ruined the year, taken tens of thousands of lives, and devastated economies around the world.
The CCPs annexation of Hong Kong and complete disregard for international law has provoked anger around the world and awareness of their countless human rights atrocities have been bought into sharper focus.
This is thanks in no small part to increased awareness of the genocide of Uighur Muslims that is taken place in the East Turkestan/Xinjiang region even as you read this.
But the plight of every single ordinary Chinese citizen at the hands of the regime is still less well known. The everyday surveillance, the religious suppression, and the level on online control and censorship they have to live with.
That is what we are going to focus on in this guide; the extraordinary level of online censorship that sees tens of thousands of websites that are used every day in the rest of the world being blocked for refusal to censor content that displeases the regime.
If you are planning to visit China, have to take a work trip work, or are considering investing or expanding your business there, this is information that you need to know.
Our guide to online censorship in Communist China is the most comprehensive on the net.
Table of Contents
Introducing the Great Firewall
The Great Firewall is the overarching term that is used to classify the various technologies and laws that are used by the CCP to restrict and control internet access inside China.
Historians will often trace the origins of the Great Firewall back to former CCP Chairman Deng Xiaoping, who used to like the saying “If you open the window, both fresh air and flies will be blown in.”
When the internet finally arrived in China in 1994, it was initially as free as anywhere else. But in 1997, the Communist regime passed the first of hundreds of laws and regulations designed to prevent anyone from using the internet to challenge their grip on power.
The following year saw the Great Firewall begin to take shape as the project to purchase technology to monitor and censor what content was available online began.
Over the years, internet censorship in China has ebbed and flowed at the behest of the Communist regime. But under current CCP Chair Xi Jinping, things are worse than at any point in the past.
Censorship has reached an all-time high and the concept of internet sovereignty, which the CCP developed, is even beginning to be exported to other authoritarian regimes around the world too. An internet cold war has begun.
Today, the Great Firewall is the most comprehensive and all-encompassing online control systems on earth. Among its capabilities are the power to censor social media and blogging sites in real time and surveil every activity by every Chinese citizen at the same time.
It employs armies of people, often referred to as the 50 cent army, who are paid to monitor the internet, report any content that is in breach of the CCP’s laws, and place pro-CCP comments to help sway public opinion in their favour.
At least a million people are thought to be employed as full time internet censors by the state. These people censor social media and any site where the Chinese public can interact and leave comments – these days, much of this censorship is done in real time.
There are dozens of criminal offences related to posting content online and references to things like the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Hong Kong democracy protests, the genocide of Uighur Muslims in East Turkestan and Taiwanese independence are all likely to lead to lengthy prison sentences or worse.
Promoting or selling VPN technology is also likely to see you end up in prison.
But one of the biggest differences that outsiders will find when going online in China is just how many sites that we take for granted and use daily are simply not accessible there.
Chinese Internet Censorship
China officially has the most comprehensive online censorship regime in the world. It is rooted in two mains pieces of legislation.
Section 5 of the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations, which were approved in 1997 prohibits the creation, replication, retrieval, or transmission of any information which falls under these nine broad terms:
- Inciting to resist or obstruct the implementation of the Constitution, legislation or administrative regulations;
- Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system;
- Inciting division of the country, harming national unification;
- Inciting hatred or discrimination among ethnic groups or harming the unity of ethnic groups;
- Fabricating or distorting the truth, spreading rumours, destroying the order of society;
- Promoting feudal superstitions, obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, murder, terrorism or encouraging criminal activity;
- Publicly insulting or distorting the truth to slander other people;
- Defaming state organisations;
- Other activities against the Constitution, legislation and administrative regulations.
In September 2000, State Council Order No. 292 placed formal content restrictions into law. These included prohibiting links to overseas news sites, limiting news output to entities with state licenses, and handing the authorities sweeping powers to access private information.
Subsequent laws too numerous to mention have added to and enhanced these powers to such an extent that the internet in China resembles a sort of dystopian nightmare that even Orwell couldn’t have imagined.
The Chinese Communist regime today uses a mixture of methods to censor the internet. These include things like IP blocking, DNS spoofing, Deep Packet Inspection, and more recently, active probing.
It works and today an astonishing number of websites, many of which are used outside China on a daily basis, are unavailable on the internet inside China.
In the following section, we will highlight just a few of the thousands of websites that are blocked if you find yourself behind the Great Firewall.
What websites are banned in China
In this section, we are going to highlight just some of the thousands of websites which are censored or blocked altogether by the Chinese state.
Compiling this information is a thankless task. There are literally tens of thousands of websites that could make it onto this list and new sites are being added on an hourly basis.
The purpose of this section is not to provide an exhaustive list but rather to help you check to see whether your favourite sites are blocked or censored inside China, and share a little bit of information about why and when it was blocked, where that is available.
For ease of reading and searching, we have broken this section down by category. If you can find a website that you think should be listed here but isn’t, do drop us a line as we will be attempting to keep this article as up-to-date as we can.
• Gmail – Gmail has been blocked in China since 2014. It is still available in Hong Kong and Macau, but with the annexation of the former earlier this year and growing control over the latter, it is anybody’s guess how long this will last.
• Outlook – Outlook appears to be blocked in much of China although there are some conflicting reports so it may be accessible in some places.
Microsoft still maintains a generally positive working relationship with the Chinese Communist regime but tensions between the USA and China have put this under strain recently.
The majority of other common webmail services appear to be accessible inside Communist China at the time of writing. This is always liable to change at the whim of the regime though.
• Google.com – Until 2010, Google ran a China-based version of its search engine at google.cn. However, following a series of disagreements with the Chinese authorities over search results and censorship, they withdrew from the Chinese market.
All Google search engine domains have been blocked since then.
Last year, there were rumours that Google planned to re-enter the Chinese market through what was known as Project Dragonfly.
This project was met with outcry by internet rights activists and Google employees when it was leaked. The plan was quickly dropped and Google remains blocked inside China.
• DuckDuckGo.com – The privacy-focused search engine was blocked in China back in 2014. The Founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg did not confirm the reason but it is likely to be as a result of refusal to comply with the Communist regime’s filtering and censorship demands.
• Yahoo.com – The Yahoo! website and webmail service remains accessible inside Communist China, but the Yahoo! search engine was blocked by in September 2018. Again, refusal to apply state censorship to their search results is the most likely reason.
• Bing – Microsoft’s search engine Bing was one of the last international search engines to remain accessible inside Communist China. But it was blocked in January 2019 in a crackdown on “illegal content” and is still unavailable.
• Startpage.com – Startpage.com has been blocked in China since 2014.
• Messenger.com – Messenger is an app that is owned by Facebook and, as we will explain further down, all Facebook apps have been blocked inside China since 2009 when protestors used it in East Turkestan (Xinjiang Province), an occupied region to the north-west of China that is currently where a genocide of the Uighur Muslims is taking place.
Facebook refusal to comply with CCP demands to access and block user data saw all its apps being blocked and despite much wooing from owner Mark Zuckerberg since then, Facebook and Messenger remain blocked.
• Slack.com – Slack.com, the workplace communication tool, has been blocked in China intermittently since 2016 and almost permanently since 2018.
It is not entirely clear what the Communist regime objects to with Slack. It doesn’t censor content which might irk them and it doesn’t store data inside China which they may not like too.
But it is just as possible that they have blocked Slack to allow a domestic alternative such as Alibaba’s DingTalk, to grab their market share.
• Whatsapp.com – WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, so refer to our earlier post on Messenger for some background here.
WhatsApp has been blocked in China since 2017 and the most likely reason is that it began to encrypt messages around that time. A refusal to play ball with censors is also unlikely to have won them many fans in the CCP too.
• Telegram.org – Telegram sells itself as the antithesis of everything the Communist regime in China thinks the internet should be. It is an encrypted, secure, and private messenger service.
Back in 2015, its East Asian servers were hit by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack which analysts were almost certainly originated in China and most likely came from a state-sponsored source.
It was around that time that Telegram was blocked across China and that remains the case today.
• Line.me – Line is a messenger service that has never really made it big in Europe or North America but is massively popular in East Asian countries like Taiwan, Japan and Thailand. But not in Communist China where it has been blocked since 2014.
The reason could be one of censorship, but more likely it is to encourage people to use domestic alternatives like WeChat, which the regime can monitor and censor far more easily.
• KakaoTalk – KakaoTalk, like Line, is a big deal in Korea where millions use it as a Messenger. It was blocked inside China at the same time as Line and most likely for the same reasons. It remains unavailable to this day.
• Signal.org – Signal is probably the most secure and private messenger service out there and is loathed by authoritarian regimes like the one controlling China.
However, Signal has only been blocked in China for a few months. Previously, it had a minimal number of users in China which probably explains why it had evaded the notice of the authorities.
However, after the Communist regime began their annexation of Hong Kong, many people there began to turn to Signal as a way to communicate freely and this led to a swift blocking of Signal not just in Hong Kong, but right across China.
Social Websites and Apps
• Facebook.com – As we have already discussed in regards to two Facebook-owned instant messengers, Messenger and WhatsApp, Facebook has been banned in China since 2009 following its refusal to kowtow to the CCPs demands over protests in East Turkestan (Xinjiang Province).
There were some reports of it being partially unblocked in 2013, but these appear to have been isolated incidents rather than a concerted change of policy by the CCP authorities.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook remains keen for his network to break the Chinese market but is aware of the damage that capitulating to CCP demands would do to his reputation and that of his company elsewhere in the world.
He has learned Mandarin and has visited China several times.
There has been talk of Facebook developing a censorship model to comply with CCP requirements but this has gone quiet in recent years as the CCP’s oppression and human rights atrocities have become more well known.
At present, Facebook and all of the sites it owns remain banned inside Communist China.
• Twitter.com – Twitter is perhaps the one website that reveals the rank hypocrisy of the Chinese Communist regime more than any other. It is banned across the country and has been since 2009 for the same reasons as Facebook.
However, almost every major CCP official, state media outlet, and high-profile supporter has a Twitter account and uses it to spread Communist Party propaganda to the Chinese diaspora across the globe, many of whom are vital agents for the CCP cause, and to Western followers too.
Inside China, regular citizens have to make do with the heavily censored and monitored Weibo platforms because of Twitters refusal to censor content. But the CCP is more than happy to use Twitter to spread its propaganda and its lies.
• Instagram.com – Instagram is owned by Facebook and so, needless to say, it is blocked inside Communist China. Instagram was once allowed inside China and it was relatively popular there too. But its blocking can be directly linked to the rise of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
In 2014, the so-called Umbrella movement took to the streets in Hong Kong to call for greater democratic reform.
Images of the protests were spread widely on Instagram and needless to say the site was swiftly blocked to ensure people in China didn’t get any ideas. It has remained blocked to this day.
• Pinterest.com – Pinterest was one of the last remaining western social media sites to remain accessible inside China. But that all changed in 2017 when the CCP regime finally blocked it.
It is not clear exactly why Pinterest was blocked when it was. Still, the timing did coincide with a major meeting of the Chinese Communist Party leaders, so it could have been to avoid any possible protests or criticism on the platform.
• Tumblr.com – Tumblr has been blocked inside China entirely since 2016. Before that, it had had certain content blocked but that is when the total blackout kicked in.
The lack of censorship is the most likely cause but another possibility is that at the time, Tumblr was packed with pornographic content which was (and is) illegal in Communist China.
• Snapchat.com – In 2017, the CCP passed its controversial cybersecurity laws that required all user data generated by Chinese citizens to be stored inside China. Snapchat didn’t do this and it features a number of privacy-friendly features that could frustrate the CCP’s surveillance model.
Snapchat was banned shortly after this law was passed and has been blocked ever since.
• Flickr.com – Flickr has been blocked in China since 2014. Like Instagram, its blocking is thought to be linked to its use by democracy protestors in Hong Kong during the Umbrella Revolution.
The CCP authorities have never confirmed this but Flickr remains blocked and domestic alternatives like YuPoo and TuChong have thrived as a result.
• Tinder.com – Everyone’s favourite online dating platform. We all swipe right to like Tinder, but not in China where it is completely banned – yet still retains a decent number of Chinese users, for reasons you will understand below.
• Google+ – Google+ was (as the name suggests) a Google social media platform and it was blocked in China as early as 2011. It is still blocked today although it is barely functioning anywhere these days.
• Google Hangouts – Google Hangouts is a video chat tool that lets you talk to friends and family. But it works globally and has no censorship, as well as being owned by Google, so it is blocked inside Communist China and has been for some time.
• Hootsuite.com – Hootsuite used to have grand plans to conquer China and held talks with Weibo and other Chinese platforms about compatibility. But Hootsuite’s link to Twitter has made it a website non-grata in China and these days it is completely blocked.
• Periscope – Periscope is owned and run by Twitter and is therefore also blocked inside China. This has been the case since 2017 and there is no reason to think that will change any time soon.
• Xing.com – Xing is a German-based career-focused social network site that is essentially a rival to LinkedIn. But while LinkedIn has happily complied with all CCP demands over censorship and user-surveillance, Xing has not. This is why Xing is blocked in China and LinkedIn isn’t.
• Twister.net.co – Twister is a peer-to-peer (P2P) microblogging site where anything goes. But not inside Communist China where the forum is blocked.
• Badoo.com – Badoo is a cross between a social media and a dating site and has proved popular with users in countries like Brazil and Russia. But in China, it is wholly blocked across the country.
• Disqus.com – Disqus is primarily a comment plug-in. But it is not available in China where the authorities have blocked it.
• Gab.ai – This is an alt-tech social network that tends to have a far-right audience and is therefore not welcome inside hard-left Communist China.
Streaming Apps and Websites
• Youtube.com – YouTube was first blocked in China for a period of five months between 2007 and 2008. It was blocked again in March 2009 and has remained inaccessible since.
As with Twitter, YouTube is evidence of the hypocrisy of the Communist regime in China since most state-controlled media outlets have channels on the platform.
Indeed, it speaks volumes for the level of effectiveness of the CCP’s censorship that Alexa still rates YouTube as the 11th most popular website in China, despite it being officially blocked.
• Netflix.com – Netflix prides itself on having a service for just about every country on earth. However, it has chosen not to try and launch a service inside Communist China yet because of the onerous requirements placed upon it by the CCP regime.
Indeed, the CCP has gone so far as to block all of Netflix’s other sites around the world for their failure to comply with censorship and data retention laws. There is no indication that this blocking is going to change any time soon.
• Vimeo.com – Vimeo is another online video hosting site and a rival to YouTube. As a result of its refusal to censor its content in line with the requirements of the Chinese Communist regime, Vimeo is totally blocked inside China.
• Dailymotion.com – Dailymotion is another video-sharing platform that does not comply with Chinese censorship laws and is therefore blocked throughout the country.
• Twitch.tv – Twitch is a mecca for gamers right around the world. But it is also a platform that allows gamers to communicate with each other about any topic they like as well as hosting games that could feature content that is not approved by the regime.
As a result, if you are a gaming fan inside China, you will not be able to access Twitch to stream your game-play or talk to other gamers.
• Vevo.com – A music video platform that hosts thousands of music videos and is a huge hit with music fans globally. Apart from in Communist China that is, where Vevo is blocked and has been for some time.
• Pandora.com – A subscription-based online radio station and podcast platform that has played a big role in revolutionising the way we listen to music. But it will not censor its content, so it is blocked in China.
• Spotify.com – Everyone’s favourite music-streaming service. But its willingness to stream content such as the infamous Guns n’ Roses album Chinese Democracy should tell you all you need to know about why Spotify is blocked in Communist China.
• SoundCloud.com – Soundcloud has been unavailable in China since 2014 and is therefore another first-class music streaming service that is off-limits to Chinese users.
• Playstation.com – PlayStation consoles were banned in China from 2000 until 2013. This ban has now been lifted but there are still strict controls over what games Chinese users can play. Because of this the PlayStation website and store have been blocked in China since earlier this year.
In addition to these sites, the Chinese Communist regime also blocks all streaming services from major western broadcasters too.
So, if you are thinking to watch content from the BBC, NBC, or any other major western broadcaster, you will be disappointed unless you follow our advice on how to get around Chinese online censorship.
• New York Times – The New York Times website has a long history with the Chinese Communist regime. Their website was blocked as far back as 2001 before a meeting with then CCP Chairman Jiang Zemin saw it unblocked. It remained this way for a decade with only the occasional article being blocked.
During this time, they even went so far as to create a Mandarin language version of their website and opening an office in Beijing.
Then in 2012, they published an article by David Barbosa on the personal finances of outgoing CCP premier Wen Jiabao just two weeks before the main CCP congress.
The CCP did not take this well and although Barbosa won the Pulitzer Prize for his article, it resulted in the New York Times website being blocked in its entirety. It has remained that way ever since.
• BBC – The BBC found its websites blocked in China back in 2018. The reason for the BBC being blocked was down to encryption.
Back in 2018, the BBC adopted HTTPS across all its websites. This is a routine step that most reputable websites have taken to help secure their users. But HTTPS connections are routinely blocked inside Communist China and that is what happened to the BBC.
Interestingly, they issued a statement recommending that users try a VPN to access BBC content inside Communist China. But we will talk about that a bit further down this guide.
• WSJ.com – The Wall Street Journal is the USA’s premier source of business news as well as packed full of current affairs and opinion. It will surprise no-one that it is blocked in Communist China and has been for some time.
The first reports of the Wall Street Journal being blocked came in 2013 and although no formal reason was ever given, the refusal to censor content is the most likely cause. The WSJ site has been unavailable since and there is no suggestion it will be unblocked any time soon.
• Reuters.com – Reuters is a first-class news agency and was blocked in China at the same time as the WSJ. The reasons are thought to be the same and like the WSJ, the Reuters block has been permanent.
• Bloomberg.com – Bloomberg was blocked in Communist China back in 2012. It came shortly after the site published a story highlighting the obscene wealth built up by the extended family of Xi Jinping, who was then Vice-Chair of the Chinese Communist Party.
Shortly afterwards, Xi was elevated to Chair, Bloomberg has been blocked ever since, and his family remains suspiciously wealthy while most Chinese people are mired in poverty.
• Independent.co.uk / Guardian.com – The UK’s Independent and Guardian newspapers have been blocked in Communist China since 2019. They were blocked as part of a wider move to block multiple international news outlets.
The action just happened to coincide with the widely reported 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, all coverage of which was heavily suppressed inside Communist China.
The list of international news outlets that are blocked inside Communist China is a long one… it is pretty much a complete one.
Other titles that you will not be able to access from inside China include Le Monde, L’Equipe, Google News, CNN, Epoch Times, Business Insider, LiveLeak, Sponichi.co.jp, NRK.no, Yomiuri.co.jp, almost all news outlets from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Europe, and the USA.
Essentially, if you want to access international news inside China, the only way to do so is with the help of a VPN, as we will explain later.
Blogging Websites and Platforms
• Blogger.com/Blogspot.com – The term blogging is intrinsically linked to freedom of expression. People who write blogs want to use them as a platform to share their views with the world.
This goes against everything the Chinese Communist regime stands for. It wants to silence voices and prevent anyone from holding an opinion that differs from the official party line.
It should therefore come as no surprise that just about every blogging service that has the word blog in its URL is blocked inside China.
This has been the case since as far back as 2003 when users of sites like Blogger and Blogspot first reported being locked out. Since then, things have got considerably worse.
• WordPress.com – WordPress is probably the best known blogging platform in the world and even though it doesn’t contain the word blog in its URL, it is also blocked.
The .com website is the part of WordPress that hosts blogs, so it is safe to assume that the reason for this block is to censor content that WordPress might be hosting.
The .org WordPress site is still accessible inside China, but this site only allows the downloading of apps and tools and doesn’t host any content.
• Wikipedia.org – The ultimate online information source has always been a proud proponent of freedom of speech and the rights of individuals.
It has refused to censor content for the Chinese regime or any other and as a result, various pages on the site have been blocked inside Communist China for years.
In 2001, Wikipedia launched a Chinese version of its service. CCP-controlled state media outlets initially welcomed this, but that quickly changed and by 2004, it was blocked (shortly ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre).
English and Chinese versions of Wikipedia have come and gone intermittently over the years since then.
But surprisingly, the whole Wikipedia site was not blocked in China until relatively recently. It was only in April 2019 that all versions were finally blocked entirely, preventing Chinese people from access this hugely valuable information resource.
• WikiLeaks.org – The infamous WikiLeaks site publishes sensitive information leaked from nation states, including China. It was blocked in China in 2010 when it was publishing sensitive information leaked from the US State Department.
Amusingly, the CCP claimed they were blocking the site in support of the US government and hoped they would deal with the issue promptly.
It was, of course, nothing to do with the fact that the documents included content linking the CCP’s Politburo with the 2009 hacking of Google’s main computer systems!
• Google Drive / Docs / Calendar – These excellent online resources are all blocked inside Communist China in line with their total blockage of all Google resources and tools.
• Dropbox.com – The Dropbox website and the majority of Dropbox servers are now blocked inside China. This is believed to be down to a refusal to filter content in line with the CCP’s demands and concerns that opposition figures could use the service to share information and coordinate.
• Archive.org – This is the domain of the WayBack Machine, an amazing archive of billions of different websites that dates back for many years.
Its availability inside Communist China has always been patchy since its very nature makes it almost impossible to censor. In recent years, it has been totally unavailable and there is no reason to think this will change any time soon.
• ThePirateBay.org – This infamous BitTorrent site is blocked in many countries around the world because of its reputation for helping users share copyrighted content.
It is also blocked in Communist China, but their reasoning is that it doesn’t prevent users from sharing content the regimes dislikes rather than any concerns over copyright. The same is true for most BitTorrenting sites such as Isohunt.com.
• Download.cnet.com – CNET Download is an amazing library of free software (and paid for apps) for all different types of devices. It features reviews and apps for just about anything you could possibly need.
Needless to say, these apps include tools that the Chinese Communist regime frowns upon, so the entire CNET Download domain is blocked in China.
• VPNCompare.co.uk – The internet premium resource for VPN and online security information, reviews and guides (if we do say so ourselves!).
We have long promoted the use of VPNs to get around the Great Firewall and touted various methods to evade CCP censorship and surveillance. It was, therefore perhaps a surprise that we remained accessible inside Communist China for as long as we did.
But that all changed back in March of this 2020 when we ran an article about Private Internet Access being blocked in Hong Kong and the Communist regimes annexation progressed.
Shortly after this story went live, our entire website was blocked by the Great Firewall. So, if you rely on us for security information or want to be able to read this very guide inside Communist China, you will need a VPN to do it.
How to check if a website is blocked in China
We have been at pains to stress that while the above list of blocked websites seems to be a huge one, it really is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are literally millions of URLs that are blocked in China, far too many to list on this site. So, if you want to check whether a URL is blocked in China, how can you do it?
The good news is that there are a number of online tools that can help. You can visit these sites, input a URL, and they will tell you whether or not the Great Firewall blocks that site.
The best of these tools is GreatFire a website that closely monitors Chinese censorship and which offers a wide range of tools to help you do the same. They have been a great help in compiling this guide and if you want to check a URL, there is no more reliable and up-to-date resource out there.
There are other options, of course. China Firewall Test is another good one. But GreatFire really is the pick of the bunch.
How to bypass Chinese internet censorship
So far, we have told you a great deal about why the Chinese Communist regime blocks so many websites, which popular websites are blocked in China, and how to test a website to see if it is blocked.
What we haven’t explained is how you can bypass the Great Firewall and still access all of the above websites in China despite the best efforts of the CCP to stop you.
One of the main reasons that the Chinese people have tolerated the CCP’s onerous online censorship project for so long is because it has been relatively simple to get around it if you use a VPN.
VPN stands for virtual private network. It is an online security and privacy tool that encrypts everything you do online and redirects it though an external server to help keep your data secure and hidden from prying eyes.
Most VPNs run a network of servers around the world and allow users to choose which server to redirect their data through. This is the clever part that will enable you to bypass the Great Firewall.
If you choose a server located outside China (few reputable VPNs offer servers in China these days), your Chinese ISP and any government surveillance people watching your connection can only follow your data as far as that server.
They cannot see which websites you visit or services you use because they cannot follow the data and because it is encrypted they can’t read the contents either. As a result, it is impossible for them to block you from accessing individual sites.
So, when you are connected to a VPN, all blocked sites suddenly become accessible again.
It is a little more complicated than that but this is the basis of how VPNs work. Of course, the CCP know this very well and have tried to stop people using VPNs. VPN use is illegal in China and penalties can be severe.
The CCP has also tried to block access to VPNs inside Communist China. But they have only had limited success with this and those VPNs that have worked hard to stay online in China have managed to do so.
As a result, despite many VPNs not working in China, a VPN remains the single most effective and most popular way to evade the CCP’s Great Firewall and enjoy unrestricted internet access inside Communist China.
Choosing the best VPN for China
The previous section explained how a VPN can help you to evade Chinese state censorship and access the internet freely inside the Communist dictatorship. It’s easy to do, but the hardest part is to choose the right VPN for the job.
This is something we have been looking at for years and the core criteria that we have come up with to help you find the right VPN to use in China is as follows:
Works in China
Not every VPN does work in China, so it is important to make sure your one does before you sign up.
The list of VPNs that work in China is a select one and not all of the usual names are on it. So do seek out a reliable and up-to-date source – here’s a good tip, this guide is as good as they get!
Unique connection modes
The majority of VPNs that can work inside Communist China have developed unique methods to get around the techniques used by the CCP to block regular VPNs from working.
Most are pretty coy about how these work to stop the CCP finding ways to block them. But they will shout loudly about the fact that they exist, always look for a VPN that is making claims like this that reviewers (like us) can verify.
Local payment options
Being able to pay for your VPN via a local payment method such as Alipay can be beneficial if you are going to be living or visiting Communist China for an extended period of time.
But be wary of this too because all local payment options are closely linked to the Chinese regime and will be monitored. If they see VPN payments on there, you could draw some unwanted attention from the authorities.
Less popular services
Less popular VPN services tend to manage to fly under the radar of the CCP authorities for longer than the better known ones.
That is why you might not recognise all of the VPNs on the list below. But they do all work and you can take our word on their quality.
Money back guarantee
It is not unknown for VPNs to stop working suddenly in Communist China as the authorities get wind of them and take decisive action. It is therefore a good idea to choose a VPN that offers a longer money-back guarantee period, so if you sign up and it stops working, you can get your money back.
There is one further criterion that you should keep in mind, perhaps above all others. Don’t use a Chinese VPN.
The CCP has tried to persuade people to switch to licensed VPNs. But a licensed VPN is not a VPN at all. It will comply with CCP censorship and surveillance laws and be unable to unblock all censored content as well as providing you with no security and privacy protections.
Our advice is to stick to the following VPNs which are the best on the market right now for evading the Great Firewall and accessing censored content inside Communist China.
Best VPN for unblocked censored content in China
- Best for use in China
- No log policy verified
- Most reliable overall
- Month price expensive
ExpressVPN is our Editor’s Choice VPN for 2023, but it is not just the best all-round VPN but the best VPN for China by some distance.
They operate a server network consisting of more than 3,000 servers in 94 different countries. This includes countries around Communist China such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, which have optimised servers tailor made for use by people inside the Communist dictatorship.
We run regular on the ground tests in China and throughout 2023 ExpressVPN’s speeds have been among the quickest that any VPN can achieve. Just as importantly they have also been one of the most reliable too.
Some of our tests have encountered long connection times. This is not unusual inside China and can depend on the network you’re using. The Lightway protocol can be a little hit and miss too. Our tests found it appeared to work better on some networks and not at all on others.
In testing on China Telecom and other networks, ExpressVPN offered the fastest and most reliable speeds. However, we have found that the iOS app can drop connection a little more regularly than other apps.
ExpressVPN offers everything you need from a VPN in China. It has a huge selection of apps that can be downloaded onto just about any device you can think of.
Its kill switch is superb and will ensure that your connection remains secure should the VPN drop out unexpectedly. They also have a verified no logs policy which has been independently audited by PricewaterhouseCooper.
It also offers an extensive range of payment options with Bitcoin, AliPay, Union Pay, and WebMoney among the secure options available.
Our advice is to sign up before you visit China and download the apps onto any device you will need them. The ExpressVPN site is blocked in China but they do operate mirror sites if you need them.
Take a look at ExpressVPN.
- Reliable in China
- Actively unblocking
- No audit of log policy
You probably haven’t come across 12VPN before and that is because it has deliberately flown under the radar to help it remain operational inside China. This has worked and it is an excellent VPN for China.
In our tests, 12VPN has performed better than the vast majority of VPNs in China and its specific security features make it an ideal VPN to use there.
It is based in Hong Kong and despite the annexation, it is still functioning well at the time of writing. If this changes, we will let you know and update this guide accordingly.
Speed tests that our team have run on 12VPN delivered extremely favourable results. The best rates were obtained using the Shadowsocks protocol, which does mean compromising on privacy a bit.
OpenVPN speeds are also good but not as fast as ExpressVPN. In recent months, we have seen speeds improving though.
It has the usual apps but the one that is missing is Android. That doesn’t mean you can’t use 12VPN on an Android device, but it does mean you have to install it manually, which can be a pain.
The service does offer a range of VPN protocols including WireGuard and there is both a SmartDNS and an auto-proxy available too.
12VPN accepts payment via the usual international payment methods as well as local payments such as Alipay and UnionPay. It also allows Bitcoin payments which is great if you want to make sure your account is as anonymous as it can possibly be.
Take a look at 12VPN.
3. Astrill VPN
- Mostly works well
- Reputable service
- Very expensive
- Can be hit and miss
Astrill VPN has been going through a challenging time of late with slow speeds an issue. But now it seems to be back to its best and if you’re after a VPN for China, they’re worth considering.
Astrill VPN offers servers in 61 different countries and has apps available for all the most popular devices. It is also one of the few China-focused VPNs to offer live chat support too.
It was one of the most popular VPNs in China but the CCP got wind of this which is likely to be why speeds have been mixed of late. But it does still work and is still secure which is something.
The big downside to Astrill is the price. It is costly and given its patchy speeds we would be reluctant to recommend signing up for the long term.
Take a look at Astrill VPN.
- Good download speeds
- Easy to use
- Unaudited no-log policy
- Hit and miss
Surfshark is back as one of our top recommendations for VPNs in China. It has also had some speed issues inside the Communist state in recent months but recent tests show these are much improved.
Surfshark brings a tremendous all-round service and competitive pricing to the table as well. It has an excellent range of apps, some great security features including a terrific kill switch, and it can unblock just about any streaming service you would care to mention.
Prices are really affordable but given their recent speed issues, we would suggest you stick to a month-to-month package for the time being. There is also a live chat support service if you are encountering any problems.
Take a look at Surfshark.
- Knowledgeable staff
- Actively unblocking in China
- Fewer server locations
VPN.ac has been one of our top picks for a VPN to use in China for some time because they work, are secure, and speeds are generally good.
This Romanian-based VPN service is another that has kept its profile low, especially in China and that has worked to their advantage.
They have a dedicated “China Optimized” section which consists of specific servers that work well in China and which offer 256-bit encryption as standard.
In our tests, we found that their Hong Kong and Taiwan servers work the best for both download and upload speeds from inside China. They are extremely reliable which is good but in the past month, speeds have slipped a bit which is a little concerning.
VPN.ac comes with a top-notch kill switch which is vital in China but features are generally few and far between. We would also recommend downloading apps before you visit China. Their customer support is good and responsive but there is no live chat option.
Overall, VPN.ac remains a good bet but as with some others on this list, our advice would be to stick to a monthly deal with them for the time being.
You can pay for VPN.ac using Bitcoin which we would recommend inside Communist China. However, local payment options such as AliPay and UnionPay are not available but things like Paypal and Credit Card, which are less secure, remain an option.
Take a look at VPN.ac.
Avoid free VPNs
Any of the VPNs recommended in the previous section will do a good job for you inside China. None of them will break the bank either, although some are more cost-effective than others.
A question we get asked a lot is whether a free VPN is a good idea to use inside China. Our answer is always an emphatic no.
The reason you need to use a VPN inside China is to get around the regime’s censorship and surveillance and use the internet freely. There is an inherent risk to doing this as you are technically breaking the law.
We will discuss this in a little more detail below.
But free VPNs are generally very insecure. Most will sell your data to cover their costs and some don’t even bother to encrypt your connection in the first place. This lack of security could easily put you at risk.
Then there is the fact that a lot of free VPNs are owned and operated by shady companies in China itself. CCP law requires all Chinese businesses to hand over any data requested to the authorities, so by default, your data is insecure.
Then there is also the myriad of other reasons why free VPNs are a terrible idea. These include malware, adware, spyware, data limitations, speed restrictions and throttling, the list goes on and on.
Free VPNs are a bad idea at the best of times. In Communist China, they are an extremely dangerous idea and we would strongly advise you against choosing one.
China’s VPN ban and the risks of using one
VPNs have been technically illegal in Communist China for years but they were generally tolerated until 2017 when Xi Jinping’s crackdown on online freedoms saw VPNs caught in the crosshairs.
In that year, the regime passed its Cyber Security laws which formally came into effect on 31st March 2018. VPNs were officially banned at that point and the CCP began concertedly blocking VPNs and related content.
There has been a concerted effort to crack down on VPN use since then.
Selling and distributing VPNs is now a serious crime and if convicted, you will face several years in jail. We have reported on one example of a man being jailed for 7 years just for sharing information about a VPN.
Possessing a VPN is more of a grey area. There are no more than a handful of cases of people facing legal action for having a VPN on their device. But it is worth bearing in mind that it is still technically illegal.
It can be dependent on whereabouts in Communist China you are. If you are visiting occupied East Turkestan (Xinjiang), there are numerous reports of people being stopped and devices searched as part of the genocidal crackdown on the local population there.
If you are in Beijing or Shanghai, you are unlikely to face such searches.
If you are caught with a VPN on your device, the law allows for a fine of up to 15,000 yuan (approximately US$2,200).
But criminal justice in Communist China is operated at the political whim of the party so if you happen to be from a country that is in the regimes bad books (Australia, USA, Canada, and the UK all fall into this category right now) you could face more severe sanctions.
The chances are that you will be fine. But it would be wrong to recommend using VPNs in China to readers without making them aware that doing so is in breach of local law and does come with some degree of risk.
The Communist regime in China is one of the most brutal totalitarian dictatorships this world has ever seen. In the Great Firewall, it has created a dystopian reality that even the best sci-fi writers could not have foreseen.
Thousands of websites and services are blocked. But it is not impossible to access them with the help of a VPN.
In this guide, we have highlighted just a few of those sites that you cannot visit in China. We have also explained how you can get around the Great Firewall and enjoy your rights to a free and open internet.
We have also explained the inherent risks that come with taking our advice and using a VPN in China.
If you have any questions about anything in this guide, any websites you think we should have listed, or any other recommendations about evading the Great Firewall, do let us know.
We will endeavour to keep this guide up to date but the situation in Communist China changes daily and sometimes it is hard to keep up!