I was just in Shanghai for a few days. I haven’t been in mainland China for a few years, and I was concerned about ‘The Great Firewall’ — China blocks key elements of the internet (or at least elements that are key to how I use the internet).
- US social media sites are generally blocked
- Google resources including gmail are generally blocked
- Access to myriad sites you may not expect beforehand may be restricted as well
Naturally I was concerned. I live online to accomplish most of my work. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t blocked from key resources.
Generally the way to access sites through the Great Firewall is with a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. You connect to a system that feeds the content to you. You’re access their servers, not Google or Facebook or Twitter or whatever other sites you would have a problem reaching. VPNs are not illegal to use in China although every so often there are rumblings about a crackdown on the VPN services themselves.
- I downloaded the VPN software before you get to China. I didn’t want those download links to be blocked.
- Since I didn’t want to take any chances, I downloaded two that had positive and very recent reports from folks visiting China — ExpressVPN and Astrill.
China Eastern Boeing 737
When I landed in Shanghai I turned on my cell phone. I use AT&T because it gets me the best connectivity at home. There’s basically no T-Mobile signal at my house. So I’m paying $10 a day for their international day pass service which lets me use my phone like I’m home in the States. On the one hand it’s annoying to pay for what T-Mobile offers free, on the other hand speeds are much better than T-Mobile too.
Consistent with what I wrote two and a half years ago internet access on my phone didn’t appear to be blocked at all. I could access all of the sites that are generally blocked in China.
When I made it to my hotel I found that the hotel’s wifi (unsurprisingly) blocked access to Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I was able to access my blog. I fired up Astrill and had no problem getting the internet I wanted.