WhatsApp messaging app is a necessary tool for world travelers, as international roaming fee is usually quite high, using WhatsApp to communicate with your family members and friends could save a lot of cost, it cost nothing if you are using WhatsApp in a hotel or restaurant with WiFi.
However, things are quite different in China, in which numerous popular foreign websites and apps are blocked nationwide due to the country’s strict internet censorship rules, which means anyone in China can’t directly visit or use these websites and apps.
WhatsApp is also one of the blocked apps in China, the app could be directly used in China in the past, it’s only blocked since October 2017.
The authority of China don’t mind foreigners using WhatsApp in the country, but they can’t tolerate more and more of their own citizens started using WhatsApp, for it’s a foreign app that is not under their control, the messages or files sent via WhatsApp by Chinese citizens can’t be monitored by the authority, while they can monitor anything shared on the country’s domestic websites or messaging apps.
Fortunately numerous people in China are still using WhatsApp despite the block, because it’s not difficult at all to bypass the block, it takes only a few seconds to do it, you do not really need to be a tech savvy. To learn how to unblock WhatsApp in China, let’s first briefly talk about the technology behind China’s blocking measure.
A large virtual filtering system called Great Firewall (Don’t be confused with Great Wall) is being used for blocking those popular foreign websites or apps.
The Firewall will detect the IP addresses of the internet users inside the country, if a user’s IP address is detected being belong to China, then the traffic between the user and the blocked site or app will be interrupted, resulting in the browser showing “unable to connect” or the app showing just blank space. If you directly use WhatsApp in China with mobile data or WiFi, your IP address is certainly belong to China, hence will get blocked, but you can easily get a foreign IP address with the measure introduced below.
The most used way to change IP address to another country’s is to use a VPN service (The use of VPN is easy and same as using apps on smartphones), VPN will encrypt the user’s traffic and reroute it to an intermediary server located in countries outside of China, as a result, Great Firewall will believe you are using internet outside of the region under its control and hence doesn’t block your access to those foreign sites.
So to use WhatsApp in China, you need to first subscribe a VPN service of your choice. Be aware that not all of the VPN services work in China, as the blocking technology of Great Firewall is much more advanced and complicated than that of other countries in the world, the Firewall is still constantly being upgraded to fight against those measures attempting circumvent its block. In 2017, lots of VPNs were cracked down by the Great Firewall, as of 2018, only a few VPNs still work in China, the popular ones currently being used in China are NordVPN, ExpressVPN, PureVPN, VyprVPN.
After you subscribed the service, an activation digit code will be sent to you via email, the digit code will then be used to activate the VPN service on your device. and then download the VPN app, both mobile and desktop version is available, though mobile version is more common in case of using WhatsApp. After the VPN app is installed on your phone, open it and you can activate the VPN service by inputting the activation code which was sent to your email inbox. The next step is to select your preferred country of VPN server(This step will get you a foreign IP address of the country you selected), usually there are tens of countries available for choosing.
After the VPN is connected you can simply leave the app in the background and go back to WhatsApp, now you will find you can again use the service of WhatsApp just like in your home country. In the same time you will be able to gain the access to other blocked websites including Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
VPN service is not free, as the running of the remote VPN servers cost money. A monthly subscription to a VPN service cost about $3 to $12, depending on the brand and plan of the user’s choice. This amount of cost is generally still much less than international roaming fee, and almost nothing if compared to other travel budget like flights and lodging.
As to the legality of using VPN in China, it can be sure that it’s not prohibited, thousands of citizens and companies in the country are using it every day for personal uses or businesses, none of them has been charged for that. But keep in mind that what you do with VPN is a totally different case, you are not allowed to do things explicitly forbidden by the Chinese law, using it for browsing websites or normal communicating is typically tolerated.
Related Post: Which is the best VPN for China in 2018
What if you are really on a budget? You can try to use some alternative messaging apps. Though some other most used messaging apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Viber are also blocked in China, the country’s domestic messaging app WeChat can be used as an alternative of WhatsApp, it has English version and can be used in every country.
So it might be an option for you as long as your family members or close friends agree to use it and always have WeChat running on their devices.
However, as a service operated in China, WeChat is complying with the regulations and laws of China’s internet censorship, WeChat’s owner Tencent admits it shares all of its users’ private data to the Chinese authority under the legal duty. Chat logs and anything sent via or stored in the app is kept on WeChat’s servers for censoring, which means text messages, voice conversations, files, contact books, and users’ locations are all under the surveillance.
By contrast, Facebook’s WhatsApp makes use of end to end encryption ensuring that only the communicating users are able to read or listen the conversations.
It is mainly for the concern of security and privacy that WeChat can’t survive in the world outside of China, as it collects too much private information and data from its users.
So use WeChat only if the above mentioned issues are not of your concern.
While the censorship may seems weird and kind of excessive, many other aspects of China are highly praised, for instance, thanks to the country’s strict security system, traveling in China is much safer than in other countries, things like robbery, theft, traffic accident, shooting are rarely happened in Chinese cities. And China is being developed rapidly, this can be witnessed in many respects, one of the most noted phenomenon reflecting this is its fast growing amount of the skyscrapers around the whole country, by 2018, the number of skyscrapers in China that over 500 ft high has surpassed 3 times that of the United States.
Don’t know which places to visit in such a large country? Take a look at these 8 most beautiful attractions in China.