The Great Firewall of China censors major foreign websites and apps (Google, Facebook, Twitter, news sources, Wikipedia, etc), but it can be circumvented with the use of a VPN (virtual private network).
Unfortunately, most VPNs are blocked in China. Only a handful of VPNs have the advanced technology and constant maintenance support required bypass the internet censorship.
Here is a list of 40 VPNs tested in China and their blocked / not blocked statuses. 31/40 VPNs are blocked in China.
Test results from Shanghai and Beijing, China. Last updated May 4th, 2019.
China VPNs vs the Great Firewall
China’s Great Firewall blocks access to the servers of most foreign social media and news websites and apps. A virtual private network (VPN) app encrypts and reroutes internet traffic through an unblocked VPN server before sending the traffic to the intended destination server.
Most basic VPNs use the OpenVPN protocol to transfer internet traffic. Unfortunately, the Great Firewall started employing Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to detect OpenVPN connections and block them.
The VPNs that currently still work in China use additional technologies to mask their VPN connections. This includes the use of obfsproxy scrambling, stunnel (SSL tunnel), “stealth” modes, etc.
But even with all these additional masking technologies, VPNs can still face outages in China during politically sensitive times. Popular China VPN server IP addresses are likely added to blacklists, forcing VPN companies to quickly spin up new servers to maintain uptime.
Choosing the best VPN for China can be tricky due to the difficult environment VPNs face in China. Luckily, we wrote a comprehensive guide on the Best VPNs for China 2019, for all the travellers and expats heading to China, so check it out!
1. Is it illegal to use a VPN in China?
No. However, operating an unlicensed VPN company in China is illegal.
2. What is the best free VPN for China?
Generally speaking, free VPNs are not a great choice for China. Good China VPNs require special technologies and constant work to maintain uptime — all of this requires money.
Free VPNs have been known to try to monetize your data or contain malicious code. If you decide to use a free VPN, make sure it is somewhat reputable.
Of the free VPNs that are somewhat trustworthy and still work in China, Tunnelbear is our best choice. It isn’t always reliable, and the free plan has a 500 MB per month bandwidth limit, so I would not personally rely on it alone.
3. What is Shadowsocks?
Shadowsocks is an open source SOCKS5 proxy developed to circumvent advanced internet censorship firewalls. It works almost like a VPN and has great performance against the Great Firewall.
If you are curious about setting up a Shadowsocks DIY VPN, check out our guide on Outline — an easy tool used to create your own Shadowsocks VPN (proxy).