Instagram is one the best platforms to share the things found in trips with others, as it's all based on images, which is ideally suited to show the places visited, additionally getting followers from Instagram is much easier than from other platforms like Facebook or Twitter. So wherever you are traveling you will need to use Instagram. This article will introduce the method to access Instagram in China, a country that has blocked access to many most used foreign websites or web-based apps.
Can Instagram be directly accessed in China?
Despite the high popularity of Instagram around the world, the website and app of Instagram are permanently blocked in China, if you try to directly access Instagram in China with the mobile app, you will only see blank space with a spinning grey circle, if access with a browser, the browser will display a message that says "Unable To Connect". China blocks Instagram using a virtual filtering system that nicknamed "Great Firewall"(Don't be confused with China's landmark the Great Wall, Great Firewall is a virtual firewall.).
Why China blocks Instagram?
Just like China had gradually blocked all the services of Google after its search service got blocked in 2014, Instagram was blocked mainly because it was acquired by Facebook becoming a sub-service of Facebook, which had been blocked in China for nearly a decade. Second, because of the strict internet censorship of China, the information shared on websites must follow the rules set by the authorities, they will delete any content that is considered harmful by them, for foreign sites like Instagram, on which the contents shared is not under control of the authorities of China, the only thing they can do is blocking the access to it. Moreover, being a popular sharing platform, Instagram may threat to the dominant status of several alternative domestic social sharing websites in China, blocking such competitors is beneficial for China's own economy.
Method to access Instagram in China
Although being blocked in China, you can still find plenty of posts and comments written in Chinese on Instagram, this is because the blocked sites or apps can still be accessed in China with circumvention methods, which are generally quite easy to do.
The most used method to use Instagram in China is using a VPN service, VPN is simply a software or app that can help you circumvent the censorship of Great Firewall and then unblock Instagram in China. The technology behind VPN is that it can encrypt the user's internet traffic and reroutes it through a remote intermediary server in one of the uncensored countries, as a result, Great Firewall will treat the VPN user in China as an internet user in other territories, hence the VPN user will not be affected by the Firewall.
The use of VPN is same as using a normal mobile app or a desktop software, depending on which kind of device you use, in case of Instagram, it should be more likely mobile app, as desktop version doesn't allow photo uploading.
Below are steps to use VPN:
Step 1: Sign up for a VPN service on the website of one of VPN providers
VPN is paid service, users are required to first subscribe a plan on the website of a VPN service provider in order to get a VPN account, which is then be used to activate the service so that the VPN app can start working to bypass the blocking in China. One more thing you should know is that unlike the internet blocking in other countries, the authorities in China also consistently attempt to block VPN, as they do know there are a considerable amount of citizen using it to bypass the Great Firewall, many VPNs have been cracked down in China, so only a few VPNs can still work in China in 2018.
Be aware that the websites of these VPNs are all blocked in China, though their services are effective and can't be blocked. So you should subscribe a VPN service of your choice before arrived in China.
Step 2: Login to your VPN account and download the VPN app
Open a web browser to go to the website of your VPN and log in using the email address and password that you used to sign up for the VPN service, you will be taken to a page to download the VPN app. Then download and install the VPN app on your smartphone, you can directly download the APK file or installer from the website of your VPN provider, or be taken to Google Play or App Store to download the app. After the app is installed, open it and sign in by typing in your username and password.
Step 3: Select a VPN location to connect and start enjoy the fun of open internet
After you signed into your account in the VPN app, you can select a location of VPN server to connect, it's better to choose a location near China, as the connection will be faster. Once the VPN is connected you will be able to access blocked websites and start using Instagram!
If you need to take pictures and upload the pictures to Instagram, using VPN is the only reliable way. There are some other methods available to access Instagram if you just want to view the pictures taken by others, not to take and upload your own pictures. You can try the methods introduced below:
Here proxy means proxy software, not proxy sites(a kind of websites that can display the content from blocked sites), which are rarely accessible in China. Proxy software is similar to VPN, but are generally not as stable and fast as VPN, especially after recent upgrades of Great Firewall, proxy is becoming very unstable as they can be easily targeted by Great Firewall and interrupted by it. Pictures can be hard to upload, as uploading pictures requires fast and stable connection, connection drop-outs will make the picture failed to upload, that's why tools other than a premium VPN are only suited to be used for browsing pictures. If you really just only want to view others' pictures on Instagram, not using it to show the pictures from your trip, proxy software is suitable for you, they are usually free to use, one of the most used proxies is Lantern, you can download its app from their official website or mobile app stores like Google Play.
You can use Tor to view the pictures and other contents on Instagram, Tor is actually a browser, using this special browser you can access the blocked websites.
However you can only access Instagram via just this one browser, it is still not accessible via other browsers or the app of Instagram without a VPN or proxy. So this method is only for browsing pictures uploaded by the people you followed, not suitable for uploading pictures taken by yourself to Instagram.
Update: As of 2018, Tor may doesn't work to bypass the block, as is reported by lots of users in many provinces of China, since most of Tor Bridges can't connect at all in China.
Shadowsocks is a special proxy invented by a Chinese programmer a few years ago, it's faster and more stable than other proxies, the performance is even not inferior to VPNs when it comes to bypassing Great Firewall, but unlike VPN, Shadowsocks doesn't encrypt user data, it's not an ideal choice if you care about online security and privacy. The app of Shadowsocks is open source and free to use, but it will not run without a remote server, to use Shadowsocks, you need to rent a Virtual Private Server in one of the countries outside of China, the cost is maybe slightly cheaper than a VPN, but you are also required to configure things needed for Shadowsocks on the server by yourself, which is a little complex and difficult to do for many people, as it requires the user to interact with the remote server using command line interface. As the process to set up a Shadowsocks server is quite long, this article will not cover the steps of using Shadowsocks, but you can easily find tutorials on web.
Update: A new Shadowsocks software called Outline is released in early 2018, the software makes setting up a Shadowsocks server very easy that can be done without typing command lines, here is the step by step guide to setting up and using Shadowsocks with Outline.
If convenience and privacy are your concern, then VPN is still the best choice for you. In case of you are not familiar with VPN and have no idea about which VPN to choose, here's a comparison of some VPNs that can be used to access blocked sites or apps in China.
Last, wish you have a nice trip in China and get millions of followers on Instagram.