China is a very different country in many respects. Before you go to china as a traveler you have to know a few extra things which you will not confront in other countries, one of these things is the restricted internet access of the country, as you may have heard of it before, a lot of the most used websites are inaccessible from within China, including Google and Facebook. You will be surprised of that you cannot access lots of sites that are used daily when you are in China.
If you try to access Facebook in China, the browser will show "Unable to connect" even the connection to internet is good.
This is because the authority set a nationwide filtering system known as Great Firewall in order to keep its citizen away from accessing those sites, which are considered by the authority as containing so called "harmful contents".
The locals don't pay attention to this as most of them tend to use some domestic alternative sites, which mostly only available in Chinese. For foreigners it is really a serious issue, which can make them give up the idea of traveling to China. Without Google you won't be able to search and find the answers when you encounter some questions, without Gmail and Facebook you will lost the connection with your family and friends. And these three services are not the only ones blocked, there are much more that up to thousands of major sites are blocked, some notable ones are listed below after a few paragraghs.
Luckily the GFW is not undefeatable. Bypassing the Firewall is actually quite easy, to do this you don't need to be a tech savvy, everyone is able to get it done in a few seconds.
The most used way is using a VPN service, VPN is a kind of software combined with a series of servers set around the world, which let users connect to get different IPs of the locations where those servers set in, once connected, it can help the user bypass the Great Firewall by disguising the user's real IP address as if the user is browsing the internet outside of the Great Firewall.
You should check out whether the sites you often use are blocked or not, if not you will be fine without VPN but I suppose in most cases you need it, some most notable sites blocked are listed below.
1. Google, and all the Google services like Gmail, Youtube, Google Play, Google Map, etc.
2. Social sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
3. Blogging sites like WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr.
4. Online storing services like Dropbox and Evernotes, etc.
5. Some news sites like Bloomberg, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.
6. Other very useful sites like Flickr, SoundCloud, Spotify, Snapchat, Kindle Store.
Sites not blocked:
Bing (the search results are largely filtered in accordance to the local laws), Yahoo, Wikipedia, Reddit, Quora, Linkedin(Partially blocked), Huffpost...
Note: A site that not blocked in a province may be blocked in other provinces, the test was done in a same city, so I'm not sure whether they are blocked or not in other regions, for instance some expats say they cannot access Yahoo in their provinces. In addition the sites currently not blocked may be blocked sooner or later, for instance, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest and many other websites listed above can be accessed in the past.
As you can see above, most frequently used sites in our daily lives are blocked. So you need a VPN to make these sites work well in China.
Most VPN services are not free, but typically cost less than 5 dollars a month, and you will experience much faster speed which cannot be achieved by some free VPNs, it is worth to give a try, additionally many VPN services offer 30-day money back guarantee, you can get your money back if you found them not very effective as you imagine.
VPN is very easy to use, just sign up on the website of your preferred VPN, then download their App, and open it, set the connection type and your preferred location of servers, after that you can leave it in the backgroud and start to enjoy the fun of free internet.
Not every VPN works fine in China, because the authority also block them, too. There are already some VPNs which were once used fine but now got blocked. And Great Firewall is constantly being upgraded now and then, more and more VPNs are being blocked everytime it upgrades. Here I list some VPNs that can effectively bypass the Great Firewall in 2017: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, PureVPN, Vypr VPN.
You may have questions as to the legality of the use of VPN, as of now no legal guidelines prohibit the use of VPN, in fact most international companies in this country are using it everyday as it is really a neccessity for them.
Be aware that the websites of these VPNs are all blocked in China, which means you cannot download their app in China. So you'd better to download the one of your favoured in your homecountry.
If you are really on a budget, you can try some free VPNs, one of some notable free VPNs is Psiphon 3, however free service comes with many drawbacks, the connection through Psiphon 3 is not very stable, which means sometimes you still can't access the blocked sites when its connection is bad, and the speed is very slow, for this reason some images of bigger size (more than 500 kb) cannot be successfully uploaded to Facebook. not only that, the Great Firewall keeps blocking it, so the updating is frequently occurred, when a update is available your old version app will no longer be useful, you must download it again. Moreover, Psiphon 3 is only available for Windows and Android phones, not available for Apple users. Most other free VPNs also not available for iOS, and many of them put limits on the monthly data, usually a video will run out this small amout of data.
Another measure is using Tor browser.
Tor is a free distributed anonymity tool which can also be used to circumvent the firewalls, unlike VPN which runs in the background when you using your preferred browser, Tor can only be used with Tor browser, and when the browser is running you can access to blocked sites within it while other browsers are still unable to connect with blocked sites. To use it you need download a Tor browser on their website.
Tor browser is simply a modified version of Firefox browser, their interfaces are very similar, but it can be used to bypass any firewalls, hence one of the differences between these two browsers is that before the window of Tor browser opens there will be a small window appears showing the status of connection, it takes a few seconds for the bridge connected.
The cons of using Tor browser is the websites load slower than VPN, as Tor is not initially designed for users to circumvent the firewall but to protect the privacy of the user or make the user stay anonymous on the line, this is similar to VPN, but Tor focus more on the anonymity, the technology of Tor is by making the information passed around between thousands of relays that widely distributed around the world, thus it significantly decrease the speed of connection as data will travel large number of relays and distances across the world to reach the user. And as Tor cares about the anonymity, every time you close the Tor brower you will automatically be logged out from those sites, next time you open the Tor browser you need log in again.
I hope after read these you have learned the way of accessing the blocked sites in China, lastly, wish you a pleasant journey!