How to bypass the great firewall of China

The greatest hurdle you will face in China is likely to be the internet or more precisely, censorship of the internet via the great firewall. To put things into perspective, China does not only censor high profile services from the likes of Google but nearly every service and website you could think of. Even when a service or website is not actively censored, access to it is still likely to be slow and unreliable due to the way the Chinese internet connects with the wider global internet. VPN services are too unreliable to be used as a primary solution and workarounds involving remote desktop rarely work well due to latency issues. Luckily, I have found a solution that is as close to perfect as we are going to get given the circumstances. In this guide, I explain what it is and how you can implement it. For the record, this solution still works as of 2019.

 

The solution

The solution revolves around roaming in China using a foreign data plan. Let me explain why this works: when you use your mobile device in another country (international roaming), the host carrier creates a tunnel to your home carrier and all your data is re-routed through that tunnel. In other words, the internet you have access to is the same you would have access to if you were on your home network. For example, if you use a Google Fi data plan you will always have a US IP address regardless of where you are in the world and will always have access to the same internet you would if you were physically in the US.

In other words, defeating the great firewall of China is as simple as roaming with a foreign data plan.

 

Implementation

Your first step will be to sign up for a decent data plan with a carrier located in a country with no internet censorship. I personally recommend Google Fi in the US as it is by far the best option in the context of location independence. If you cannot sign up with Google Fi, I recommend China Mobile Hong Kong. They have a decent selection of data plans, both prepaid and postpaid, that can be used in mainland China at no extra cost. China Unicom Hong Kong also has plans that can be used in the mainland.

Your second step will be to activate the data plan and set everything up for access in China. This should be automatic with most carriers but it is still advisable to double check as some carriers require that roaming is activated in advance.

Your third and last step will be to turn on the data roaming option on your phone when you arrive in China and to enjoy your unrestricted internet access.

 

Alternative

If you cannot sign up for a foreign data plan, your best alternative will be to use the remote desktop workaround. In short, you set up a Windows VPS or dedicated server in a country that has decent fibre links with China (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, US, Canada, Singapore etc) and remote desktop into it whenever you need access to an uncensored internet connection. It works better than the VPN services because the firewall does not actively target remote desktop connections. Also, the Windows VPS or dedicated server you remote desktop into can be a lot more powerful than your laptop making some resource intensive tasks easier to do.

In any cases, I recommend switching your DNS to OpenDNS (208.67.222.222, 208.67.220.220) or CloudFlare (1.1.1.1, 1.0.0.1). To learn how to update your DNS, click here.

 

Additional knowledge

For those who are interested in learning how the great firewall actually works, there is a very interesting presentation available on YouTube.