If you decide to read this article, I assume you already know about the complicated situation of the internet in China. Strict censorship, numerous of blocked sites, and severely restricted access to Western online services. This is what you can foresee during your visit to a country with one of the world’s gravest internet autonomy scores.
A VPN can help you get past the restrictions and filters. But not all VPN services work in China.
Fortuitously, some VPN service providers are dedicated to helping their netizens in censorship-heavy countries. Nord VPN is one of these services – strive to learn why and how this fast VPN service works in China.
Why Don’t All VPN Services Work in China?
China’s stringent censorship is an open secret now. The Great Chinese Firewall is infamous for blocking favorite sites such as Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
One of the most efficient ways to bypass the Great Firewall is with a VPN. Two years ago, however, that became a whole lot harder.
In June 2017, China’s new cybersecurity law came into effect. It required internet companies (including VPN providers) to register with the Chinese government in order to continue operating and to comply with data requests during investigations.
Today, China has a list of state-approved VPN services. However, these services are compromised, and as you might expect, fail to access blocked content. VPN providers who decline to comply with the new laws are targeted by sophisticated detection – like deep packet inspection.
The bottom line? More and more VPN services strive to keep their services available in the region and able to provide security and privacy. The main difficultly they face is the Great Firewall’s ability to detect and block OpenVPN traffic, the industry-standard VPN protocol.
Fortuitously, NordVPN allows a dependable method to work around that.
How Does NordVPN Circumvent China’s Great Firewall?
NordVPN is one of the rare VPNs that operates reliably in China. There are a couple of tricks it uses to elude detection: first, it does not offer any servers in China itself. This means that NordVPN does not have to comply with China’s complicated data retention law and removes the danger of government interference with the service’s hardware.
Second, NordVPN offers “obfuscated servers.” These are specifically designed for use in regions with heavily-blocked internet access. NordVPN is reasonably reluctant to explain how these servers bypass state-imposed restrictions. However, it likely involves disguising a user’s traffic to resemble regular HTTPS activity more closely.
How to use NordVPN in China
The leading NordVPN site is currently unavailable in China. Customer support can direct you to a working mirror website (which is just a copy of the main website, accessible from another URL). However, it is worth noting that these can be taken offline at a moment’s notice, so the best course of action is to register and install NordVPN before you land in China.
iOS users can still use the service in China by manually setting up an IKEv2 connection. The easiest way to get connected on Windows, Linux, macOS, and Android is to use an obfuscated server. To enable these, open your NordVPN app and click the Settings option in the top-left.
Next, scroll to the bottom of the list and click Show advanced settings. You’ll see a warning, but just click on the I know what I am doing button. Now, find Obfuscated Servers in the list and click the toggle button to enable them.
If you return to the app’s home screen, you should see an Obfuscated Server option at the top of the list on the left-hand side. Clicking it will automatically connect you to the best server, but you can also choose one from a specific country by clicking on the three-dot icon to the right.
Once connected, you’re free to browse the internet as you usually would. If your chosen server doesn’t work, we’d recommend trying one in a different location. If you’re still having trouble, customer support should be able to help, either by specifying a server that still works or providing instructions for configuring your device for using obfuscated servers.
Support is available 24/7 over live chat, and if they can’t solve your problem, you can take advantage of NordVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee to claim a full refund.
Why Does China Block Some websites?
Apparently, China’s internet limitations are in place to protect its citizens from harmful materials or beliefs. However, these restrictions have continually grown in scope, emphasizing censoring news or opinions that cast the Communist Party of China in an unfavorable light.
Notably, section five of the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations ordinance (1997) makes it a crime to use the internet to tell lies, distort the truth, spread rumors, or “injure the reputation of state organs.” The problem here is that this wording appears to be intentionally vague: it does not specify that any type of rumors are exempt, for instance, meaning that everyone from journalists to celebrity gossip publishers run the risk of prosecution.
What Sites and Services are Blocked?
While it is impossible to know precisely how many pages are banned in China, recent estimations put the number of blocked domains at around 10,000. Below, we have listed some of the types of content that cannot be accessed from mainland China:
- Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- Messaging sites (WhatsApp, Snapchat, Gmail, Slack, Telegram)
- Streaming sites (Netflix, YouTube, Twitch, Spotify)
- News sites (BBC, NYTimes, The Guardian, Reuters)
- Neutral sources of information (Wikipedia, Quora, Scribd)
- Cloud storage platforms (Google Drive, Google Docs, Dropbox, Mega)
- Search engines (Google, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo)
- VPN-related material (VPN websites, general information, and installation tutorials)
Do any other VPNs work in China?
As some VPNs allow you to bypass China’s Great Firewall, the Chinese government has put a significant emphasis on restricting access. Further, they even block necessary information about how a VPN works. Many VPN providers lack the time and resources required to find a workaround. This means that the list of VPNs that work in China grows shorter all the time.
It’s important to note that all of these service websites are blocked in China, however. Some services have official mirror sites set up to allow you access when it isn’t guaranteed in China. As such, we strongly recommend registering with a VPN provider and installing the software before visiting the country.