there is no best VPN for China and every other article you read that says otherwise I can almost guarantee you that that person has never lived in China. If you'll trust me with just a few minutes of your time I promise you the stories and strategies I'm about to share with you will change the way you view both the internet and VPNs in China.
This is me living in china
My name's Nadal and ever since I first moved to China in 2006, I've been using VPNs to stream my favorite shows, access the news and generally evade the censorship. It's affectionately known by expats as the great firewall of China. My goal here isn't to just share with you a list of VPNs, make an affiliate commission, then be on my way. I wanna help educate you on how censorship in China works, answer whether or not it's legal to use a VPN in China and then explain my strategy that has allowed me to successfully connect to a VPN for years in China. Let's begin with a quick history of censorship here. It wasn't until the early 2000s that China's Ministry of Information began to censor the internet. It officially began in late 2006 when China started its Golden Shield Project which is now known as the Great Firewall. It was barely noticeable at first, mainly just porn websites and a few blatant anti-Chinese websites. But then 2009 the flood gates opened or rather they close tightly. YouTube was blocked in March, followed by Facebook, Twitter and others in July.
Story of internet in China and VPN
From 2009 on censorship in China became so widespread that the question changed from what is blocked in China to what isn't blocked to China? China says they do this for the protection of their population and in some cases I can see the merits of this argument but the fact is is that VPNs are extremely popular among Chinese people. It's the government's way of controlling the flow of information and before you jump on your soapbox about authoritarian communist governments and I admit I'm guilty of that as well.
Take a look at how your own government is starting to quietly censor the internet, you might be surprised. So with this in mind, the most common question I'd get about VPNs in China is this, is it legal to use a VPN in China? I'll answer this question with a story from my own experience. A few years ago while I lived in the sensitive Western region of Xinjiang, my phone that I'd been using for quite some time it just stopped working. I tried topping it up, restarting it, whatever it was just no longer working. So I took it into China, UNICOM, my cellular provider and I was shocked when they told me that my service had been cut by the local authorities and that I would need to visit the police station to get me started. But when I got to the station they actually went through my phone, deleted all of my VPNs and also other apps like Skype, Viber, Signal and others.
After they were done my phone service was reactivated but as a test, when I left the station I immediately re-installed all of those apps to see if my service would be cut again, well, it never was. I tell you this story, basically as a worst case scenario, I've never heard of a foreigner getting seriously punished for using a VPN service.
Although with China, anything is possible in the future.
I realized that. I can't say with certainty whether it's illegal to use a VPN in China because China's laws and policies are purposefully vague. If China doesn't like you they will find a way to nail you for something. But if you just wanna use a VPN to access your email, watch YouTube, stream Netflix, countless expats in China will tell you the same exact thing, you're gonna be fine. Okay, now let's jump into some practical advice here, what is the best VPN for China? The answer is simple yet vague, it depends. You see, we all tend to think that China's internet runs into the single choke point in Beijing where the authorities decide what is or isn't blocked. But this isn't true,
China's internet is actually censored on a local and enterprise level with Beijing sending directives on what should be blocked. It's up to the Chinese social media companies to censor themselves and local governments and cities across China to follow these directives from Beijing and they sometimes put additional censorship in place just for good measure. Again, I've had the experience of traveling between cities where an app on my phone was working in one place and then all of a sudden it stopped working in another city. The local government in one city had decided that this communications app should be blocked when the other city hadn't. This is incredibly important to understand when it comes to VPNs in China because what works in one place in the country might not work in another. I've had people tell me that such and such VPN works really well in Shanghai but when I download and try it and Shindong, I just could never connect. So if you wanna connect to a VPN in China get one of those trusted apps.