Asia,  China,  Country Guides,  During the World Tour,  TDM

Internet in China: what works? What doesn’t work?

Spending a few days in China is also discovering the Chinese Internet.Indeed, China has the “Great Firewall of China” which prevents access to many services that Westerners like us use.This “great digital wall” serves as much to censor what the Chinese authorities do not like as to ensure economic protectionism.Indeed, the major services we use have their Chinese equivalent:

  • Google / Facebook is replaced by Baidu
  • WhatsApp is replaced by Wechat
  • Amazon is replaced by Alibaba
  • Uber is replaced by Didi

Small feedback on our 3 days in Beijing

Access and speed

Internet access is quite simple, our hotel had wifi which did not even require an access code.At the airport, wifi access is also available through a connection via the Wechat application or the retrieval of a code via an automatic terminal.We also bought a local SIM card without any difficulty even if it was a bit long.The connection speed is very good even though I couldn’t measure the speed. The service I used to use for that (Speedtest) was… blocked in China!

What’s wrong?

Just about every major service we are used to using:

  • Google and all its galaxy (Gmail, Google Map, Google Calendar, Hangout, …). Kisscool effect, many services other than Google become unusable because they use the capcha system (the famous codes to copy to do an operation) of Google.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Inst
  • agram
  • WhatsApp
  • Telegram
  • Amazon and especially its AWS service (Amazon Web Services) which makes unusable many services using it (Dropbox, Evernote, …)

In other words, none of the services I use on a daily basis are working…

What about access via VPN?

Read our article on VPNs.Without going into technical details, a VPN is a service that allows you to encrypt a connection and pass the data through servers in another country.Thus, the Chinese firewall cannot know that you are connecting to a “forbidden” service.We regularly use a VPN (configured by me, with an OVH server for those who are interested) to secure our connections, have a fixed IP address, and simulate the fact that we are in France (which is very convenient for some services like Netflix).In theory a VPN is therefore the perfect solution to bypass Chinese censorship.In practice it works… more or less.China is hunting for VPNs, which means that many VPN services are blocked and therefore unusable as well. Since I use a personal VPN, this one works.So I was able to access Google, Facebook and co. But the connection was extremely slow. I think the Chinese firewall, as soon as it sees data coming in from abroad, drastically reduces the speed of the connection.It also gives a good idea of what can become an internet where net neutrality isn’t respected. Neutrality that Trump had abolished a few months ago in the United States …So you can slip through the net relatively easily, but it’s not viable in a work context. Impossible for us to stay one month in China in “nomad digital” mode.


Some western services have understood the rules of the game. This is the case of the Bing search engine (owned by Microsoft).Bing installed its servers in China by accepting the conditions of the Chinese authorities.Bing is therefore accessible in China, extremely fast but … censored.A search for the term “tien an men” in Bing images in China will not return the same results as the Bing images in France.I was convinced I made a screenshot, but I must have made a false manipulation, so you have to take my word for it ;-)As for maps, Apple’s Maps app works very, very wellSo basically, before coming to China:- download wechat- configure your vpn- download didi to call a cab (the equivalent of uber)- print your return tickets and your hotel reservation (because gmail isn’t always accessible)- download the Bing app

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