China selectively completely censors various western social and media services using what is known as the Great Firewall of China (aka GFW, Golden Shield Project ,防火长城, 金盾工程). Attempts to access blocked sites will result in “no response from server” or an endless connection. Surprisingly, the Chinese government has never officially admitted to the existence of the Great Firewall or any form of censorship on their part. Surprisingly, when the ministry of foreign affairs were questioned on this matter they claimed the official Chinese Party line encourages “freedom of speech”. Hence circumventing the censorship is widely regarded as legal and not against the law in China.
There two ways websites can be blocked in China, a full block or a partial block.
Fully blocked websites are always inaccessible and will always return an error when accessed. Examples of fully blocked websites include:
This means that if you traveled to China and expected to contact your friends back home via Facebook, you will be sorely disappointed.
Partially blocked websites are occasionally accessible with no pattern of when it is accessible and when it is not. These websites will be a pain to access as it may suddenly return a “no response” message. Examples of fully blocked websites include:
- Dropbox (Constantly doesn’t sync)
- LinkedIn (Images almost never work)
- Gmail (Your emails will probably arrive late too)
- Google Playstore (Don’t expect to download any apps)
A partial block serves as a major annoyance as the service can be cut off randomly at any moment. There is no “magic hour” which the connection would be stable, even in the depths of the night. It is for this reason it is recommended not to use Gmail directly as getting important emails 8 hours late is never fun.
In addition to this, access to all websites outside of China can be extremely slow and unstable, regardless of the quality of the internet connection. It is hypothesized that this is because the Great Firewall can occasionally get congested there are too many requests for websites outside of China. To deal with this, the Great Firewall takes the easy road by simply rejecting some requests, leading to dropped connections.
As this is a large topic, I have broken down the information about the Great Firewall into these following Sections: