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Many BoardingArea readers are heading to China in the coming weeks due to an American Airlines mistake fare. China is a wonderful country to visit, I lived there from 2002-2010 and am back this week for business with stops in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. The internet situation is the worst I have experienced.
In prior times certain foreign sites, mainly news sites like BBC and NYT would get blocked due to reporting on issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government. This is part of the ‘Great Firewall’ filtering internet coming in to China. For the most part you could work around things, and critically, VPNs were given a pass because corporations depend on them.
In the past year-plus the situation has steadily deteriorated, such access to virtually all overseas websites is at substantially reduced speed, many more sites are blocked, and most VPNs are as well. This particularly hurts with the blanket blockage of Google services. Facebook, twitter, many other services as well.
I had dinner with a longtime expat who recently returned to China. A friend tipped him off on ‘foreigner internet packages’ for homes that get you foreign sites faster, but only those not blocked.
Some things you can do:
- Dust off your hotmail account and get used to Bing. Microsoft seems to be in the good graces of the authorities.
- Plan on no access to google services and social media accounts. If you must have access, consider bringing an overseas mobile phone/tablet with data plan. Currently devices on mobile networks are allowed to access the internet more or less as needed. I have T-Mobile which allows unlimited data and text in China.
- If you use a VPN service, contact your VPN provider for custom gateway IP addresses that may stand a chance of working, at least a little. I have several that work intermittently, though frequently cut off. When cut off, you will probably then get page cannot load errors for everything until you close browsers, reconnect to the network, sometimes even to restart the computer to start over.
- Because of the amount of hacking originating from China, logging in to websites like financial institutions from Chinese IP addresses may trigger security alerts that may be a hassle to unfreeze your accounts. Avoid if possible.
It is sad to see what this has done to Chinese connections to the world and for visitors to China. Forewarned or forearmed.