If you ever wanted to know what it feels like living in the dark ages come to China right about now. Seemingly in timing with the 20th anniversary of the 1989 “incident” (as they call it around here) many popular international websites have been blocked (including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress, Blogger & Hotmail) and anything that isn’t blocked is loading at a snails pace probably due to extra filtering/monitoring going on.

As a citizen of the internet this makes me mad and not just because I can’t share my inane thoughts with random people online any more but because I know full well that the anniversary will pass here and no one will bat an eyelid. Whether they don’t know or don’t care after all the bloodshed the wrong side won and tyrannical suppression continues in many forms. Sometimes it feels like freedom is a low priority here as long as you’re making money.

Political and human rights rants aside there are still plenty of ways to get around the great firewall. Here are options which should provide you with unfiltered access (continually updated):

  • 12vpn (paid) – VPN service with optimized configurations for selected regions. My review here.
  • Witopia (paid) – VPN service which provides relatively fast service. My review here.
  • Other personal VPN providers: Astrill, ibVPN, Strong VPN, SwitchVPN (comparison here).
  • Tor (free) – slow but very secure and reliable p2p onion routing network. My guide here.
  • Hotspot Shield (free) – another VPN service which provides free service but slow.
  • Freegate (free) – proxy service created by the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (download here).
  • Freedur (paid) – simple software but plagued by security and technical issues in the past.
  • SSH tunnel (requires server) – for more technical people see this guide here (if you don’t have a server try this one).
  • Anonymous proxy (free) – many free services provide web-based proxies but insecure [123].

If you don’t know what a VPN is then check out VPN Resource for a simple guide. If you’re using an old fashioned proxy server you may find Firefox plugins like FoxyProxy or Gladder useful for switching connections across multiple proxy servers based on URL patterns. For Chinese speakers (and savvy non-speakers) you may find this site very useful.

If you know any other good ways around the GFW please leave a comment below.

Comments

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thank you very much David,thanks for let me log in my blog again.but still it is unconvenient.maybe for most of Chinese,we cannt feel this problem a lot,coz most of the websites blocked are foreign webs.but for you I know it is a mad thing.like we discussed last time,what we can do is hope things will change,and China can have a more open mind to view this world.

    • David says:

      I hope so also but actions like this indicate China is moving in quite the opposite direction than one would hope. Fingers crossed it’s only a temporary measure.

  2. Aku says:

    Since there are a dozen ways of burrowing under the Great Firewall, what’s the point in leaving it standing? Why not just trash the whole thing? It’s not like people won’t find ways around it.
    Besides, the best way of making kids do something is to tell them not to. If it isn’t forbidden, it becomes much less interesting.

    • David says:

      I think there are a couple of reason why it remains effective:

      1) Most people don’t notice its there (there are no warning messages just 101 errors)
      2) Most people don’t know how to bypass it (unless you’re a bit technically savvy)

      This is not to say its acceptable in any way but I don’t see it going away any time soon. Agree that forbidding something just draws attention to it even more so its all a bit pointless.

    • c says:

      two theories and a two fold win -win for the Chinese govt.:

      1.) it slows the flow of information, which allows the govt. to react and control social situations before ppl have time to circumvent and disseminate info via the web. This slows groups of ppl from affecting the outcomes of social issues.
      2.) ppl learn it’s the norm to pay money for proxies. thus, it’s a money making scheme that the Chinese govt, uses as a way of taxing foreigners and their own people.

      • And it boosts the traffic for Chinese websites like Renren.com (FB clone) and Weibo (Twitter for Teenyboppers), and Tudou/Youku (Fake Youtube with IP violations).

        The Government gets a nice kickback from these private (multibillion dollar) businesses, in exchange for blocking the competition. Typical Chinese backslapping and palm greasing.

  3. James Wang says:

    The free proxies are generally only good for blog surfing, for heavier duty web activities such as youtube paid solutions are the only way to go. Between witopia and freedur, I’m finding Freedur is faster with a very pleasing user experience. You can tell the people behind freedur really knows their craft. And SSH tunneling is simply too inaccessible for majority of your regular Internet peoples.

    • David says:

      Thanks for your comment James, I completely agree with you although haven’t tried Freedur yet (I find Witopia pretty good most of the time).

      • kang says:

        I took a look at freedur, witopia, and a few others like strongvpn, madvpn, privateinternetaccess, and relakks.

        based on pricing, the cheapest is privateinternetaccess which has openvpn access for 40 a yr. the speed im getting here from china is 4mbit which is pretty good in my experience with vpns.

        just thought you’d like to know. the url is https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/

  4. Matteo says:

    Thanks a lot, is a frustration buy Flickr Pro account for 2 years and then after 3 week can not use it anymore because someone put a limitation on your freedom!
    I guess the free proxy will not work well with an heavy site like Flickr, but I dont wanna take the risk to pay one for the same result…. May someone already tryed? or give me a suggestion?

    • David says:

      Hi Matteo – Witopia or Freedur are probably your best bet for getting decent speed. I use the former and find it pretty good.

  5. Matteo says:

    I’m trying Freedur and is really very fast, even from office’s wireless connection I can watch yuotube video in real time.
    Anyway is a little bit expensive if you consider that I’m going to pay that I should get for free…. but as they say “this is China”

  6. Denver L. Roberson says:

    Have you guys checked http://www.acevpn.com? I use their service and I am pretty happy with them. They are based on openvpn and I run their service on my router. Is Freedur openvpn or pptp?

    • David says:

      Thanks for the tip – openvpn is definitely the way to go in my experience. I think Freedur uses some sort of anonymous proxy as opposed to a true VPN solution.

  7. soubida96 says:

    thx for all the tips! but do you know how to download proxy (or some other free service) for mac?? this summer is horrible because they started blocking facebook and youtube…. i miss being able to go on any website i want!! :(

    • David says:

      You could try Hotspot Shield – they have a free version available for Mac but you may find it a little slow.

  8. Mohamad says:

    Hello i have a new software completely free and actually prety fast that has been develloped by a chinese lving in U.S wch was angry seeing his country forbidding access to all websites so here’s the program its caleld freegate its pretty simple to use no installation, you just need to put it on your desktop and launch it everytime efore you want to access internet so here you go, the link to it is: http://www.dongtaiwang.com/loc/download_en.php

  9. designeRoof says:

    oh man… freedur is screwed. go to their website and u will know wat just happened. their own crew ran away with all the accounts and technology… oh god..

  10. Echo says:

    Hi, David. Do you know how to get access to Facebook in China? I don’t wanna lose contact with friends there! thanks so much!

    • David says:

      Hi Echo, try one of the services in my post above. Any of them should allow you to access Facebook, although you may find some better/faster than others. I use Witopia but you have to pay for it. If you’re only going for a short time the free option may be fine for you.

      Hope this helps :)

  11. samantha says:

    Thank you David. The post really helped me a lot.

    I am using Freedur now, which works really well. Finally I can contact my Facebook again.

    Thanks

    • ellejo says:

      i’ve been using Freedur for a month so far. It is one of the fastest VPNs i have ever used. Stable and cheap. Very good VPN. Like it

  12. Montana says:

    You could probably try Google Translate, too — one site China cannot ban without affecting the people who use it legally.

  13. BigPerm says:

    All of these sites and VPN are great for web browsing but my question is which one of these can handle BT uploading? any ideas?

    • David says:

      Bittorrent works OK with Witopia and 12vpn although may be against their terms of service. Depends what you’re using it for I guess ;)

  14. Will says:

    Surprised you haven’t listed StrongVPN. Their service is $85 a year but has great support (24/7). They also don’t block P2P websites/traffic including sites like MegaRelease. It’s a little more expensive than the others you’ve listed, but in a recent review by CNET (http://asia.cnet.com/blogs/sinobytes/post.htm?id=63014818) it got good marks. Worth looking into…

  15. Jackie says:

    I am using Switchvpn to bypass firewall of china.Excellent Cusomter support and Server Speed.i had tried witopia but it was worst experience their customer support never replies and i requested refund yet no response.Bad experience ever…i recommend everyone who want to use internet High speed with vpn

    switchvpn[dot]com

  16. Woman says:

    Hi and thank-you for the list!!! You mentioned that you have found wordpress.com blocked? Where abouts are you? I found that where I live in Inner Mongolia it is still open, and I post about some touchy topics with no problems. Again… thank-you for the list!!!

  17. irugnotmis says:

    PaperBus appears to be a slick and user friendly interface but I read somewhere that it’s by the developers of Freedur, which as you mentioned, is plagued with security issues. Have you used it? Is there any advice you can give?

    • David says:

      I have tried it in the past and found the service quite good but like you say the connection with Freedur does rather tarnish its reputation. Considering the small cost of a paid service like Witopia or 12vpn I’d say it’s probably not worth risking it.

  18. Tee Kean says:

    Hie David,

    i’ll be goin to china next year to work for couple of year. i’m a heavy user for Facebook, youtube and downloading tv series thru megauploads. Which VPN, you recommend me?

  19. Rebecca says:

    A VPN is a must if you`re living in China. It`s almost impossible to get online without one. For example, if you go to a blocked site, Internet access is cut off COMPLETELY for one or two minutes. It becomes extremely annoying after a while. I am using this VPN now: http://www.sunvpn.com/, had no problems with it.

  20. Ryan says:

    I have the knowledge of setting up VPN service based on US servers . If you need details please contact me. I can offer help. I am not running a company but I have the technology for starting a VPN server just like those dealers. It could be only used by you and not share with others.

  21. James Erramelli says:

    Hi, I just want to put in my two cents. I know this is an old-ish thread, but have you considered that the VPN providers to bypass the Great Firewall of China (pun intended XD) could also be provided by the same people who put the firewall in place, as a money making scheme? As mentioned previously it could be just there for the money.

  22. hoopee says:

    Do you know if “Hide My IP” will work in China to by pass the Chinese firewall?

    You can choose to just go through American servers and IP’s or you can let it choose from around the world. I’ve used it for a while, it can be slow, but it does stop all of the google adds and tracing.

    It’s a paid service for one year and gives you the choice on how often to change your IP, what country, and also the option to turn it off for faster surfing for non-issue sites.

    Thanks.

  23. HYDRA says:

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    http://www.scribd.com/doc/92377253/Practical-Digital-Self-Defense-Volume-2-online-security-circumvention-Censorship-with-proxy-vpn-and-more-by-annafarahmand-and-michael-webber
    alternative link:
    http://www.4shared.com/office/r5ufnlLE/practical_digital_self-defense.html
    to find more book from this author look at her link here:
    http://www.scribd.com/annafarahmand
    Reply

  24. Paul X says:

    Very insightful article! I’ll definitely look into some of the VPNs mentionned I don’t think what I got cuts it anymore

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