Fanqiang (翻墙) is a Chinese word that literally means jumping the wall. However, in today’s China, it also has a special meaning: circumventing internet censorship and accessing websites/services blocked by the so called Great Firewall of China.
In this article, we will talk about Fanqiang (翻墙) in China.
The Great Firewall of China
The Great Firewall of China (GFW) is the set of actions and technologies enforced by the Chinese government to regulate and censor the internet in mainland China. As a result, many foreign websites, mobile apps and other internet services are blocked and not accessible to internet users in China.
Why does China have the Great Firewall?
The Great Firewall is mainly a censorship system used by the Chinese government to prevent Chinese people from accessing outside news, opinions and propaganda etc. that are “wrong” by the government’s standard. It’s also used to block “corruptive” and illegal contents such as those related to porn and gambling etc.
How Long Has the Great Firewall of China Existed?
The GFW project started in China around 1998 and the Great Firewall has been active since then. This project has gone through a few phases already and the underlying infrastructure and technology has only become more sophisticated and more powerful.
Which Websites and Online Services Are Blocked by the Great Firewall of China?
There are so many websites and online services banned in China that we can’t list them all in this article. Below are some most well-known websites and online services that are currently blocked by the Great Firewall of China.
News and Media:
- The New York Times
- The Independent Time
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Economist
- The New Yorker
- Le Monde
Search Engine and Informational Sites:
- Google Scholar
- Internet Archive
Music, Image and Video:
Email and Instant Messaging:
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Docs
- Google Drive
- Google Calendar
How Does the Great Firewall of China Block Content?
Below are some of the main methods used by the Great Firewall of China to block content:
- URL Blocking: If the GFW finds the URL of the website you are visiting in on its blacklist, it will block it.
- DNS Poisoning: When you try to visit a website, your browser needs to translate the URL into an IP address so that it can load the content. This process is called DNS lookup. For banned websites, the GFW may returns the wrong IP address so that your browser can’t load the correct content.
- IP Address Blocking: For banned websites, the GFW might block a range of IP addresses that belong to the servers where the sites are hosted, so that you won’t be able to visit it.
- Deep Packet Inspection and Keyword Filtering: Deep packet inspection is an advanced technology used by the Great Firewall of China to inspect incoming and outgoing network traffic for packets, blocking data packets that contain sensitive information (such as banned words) that are censored in China.
- Resetting Connections: after finding you are trying to visit a banned website, the GFW may send out a fake “reset packet” signal, pretending that the connection between your computer and the web server has been reset in order to block that website.
Fanqiang: Jumping the Great Firewall of China
The Great Firewall is indeed a powerful and advanced tool used by the Chinese government to censor the internet. Do most Chinse people find it amazing? I think you know the answer. I guess most internet users in China think it’s a big headache. That’s why people in China have been trying all kind of tricks to circumvent the internet censorship, and they even came up with a word to describe this kind of activity: fanqiang (翻墙), which literally means jumping the wall.
Fanqiang: Is It Possible?
Although the Great Firewall of China is getting more and more tougher these days, it’s still possible to circumvent it, or fanqiang, in China. Many techniques and software have been developed for the sole purpose of fanqiang. Actually, we believe fanqiang is a very common practice among internet users in China (especially those who understand some foreign languages such as English).
Fanqiang: How to Do it?
There are a number of ways you can use to bypass the internet blocking by the Great Firewall of China:
- Using VPN: VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the most popular software people have been using to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. Although originally VPN was developed mainly to increase online security, people found it can also be used to bypass internet blocking, so VPN became very popular fanqiang tool in China many years ago. Unfortunately the GFW has become so sophisticated that it might be able to detect some VPN usage and then block it. As a result, most VPNs are no longer working in China these days. However, there are a few VPNs that are still working well in China even under the eyes of the GFW. We will list those VPNs later in this article.
- Using Proxy: Proxy is a technology that’s similar to VPN and can be used to bypass GFW’s internet blocking. However, as the GFW has become more advanced, the traditional proxy method is no longer working well in China. Some new proxy-based technology was then developed for the sole purpose of fanqiang. The most popular ones are shadowsocks and V2ray. Those two protocols turned out to perform much better for fanqiang. However, there’s not many reliable service providers for them. Many people prefer to install their own shadowsocks server or V2Ray server, which require some technical skills to so.
- Using Foreign SIM cards: If you purchase a SIM card outside of mainland China and then use it in China (by roaming) to connect to the internet, you might find the Great Firewall does not affect you. It’s known that some SIM cards sold in Hong Kong or Taiwan can be used for fanqiang. Also, if you are a subscriber of the Google Fi plan, your phone can bypass the GFW when used in China. The limitation of this method is that usually a SIM card’s data plan is quite expensive and it won’t be able to used directly as easy as WIFI on desktop computers.
Fanqiang: Is It Legal?
Before 2017, most people believe fanqiang is completely legal in China. However, in 2017, the Chinese government issued a new law that prohibits local companies from offering VPN service without the government’s approval, essentially making it illegal to sell VPN services in China. During the same period, VPN and other fanqiang apps started disappearing from China’s mobile app stores under the government’s pressure.
In recent years, a number of legal cases have been reported where Chinese individuals got into legal trouble by using VPNs to visit blocked websites. Most people involved in those cases ended up being fined by the local police. There were no foreigners reported in those cases.
So, is it still legal in China to use tools such as VPN to bypass the Great Firewall? It’s no longer clear these days. But as there’re many people in China doing it everyday, most people believe it’s still OK to fanqiang and it won’t get you into any serious trouble. Let me say this: If you open up your laptop in a Starbucks in China and log on Google (which is blocked in China), you don’t have to hide yourself or worry that somebody will report you to the police.
Fanqiang: What Are the Best VPNs?
As mentioned above, the GFW has been actively blocking VPN traffic in China. That’s why most VPNs do not work in China these days. However, based on VPN testing results form multiple sources (such as this Best VPN for China report and this Chinese article: VPN推荐), there’re still a few VPN services that can defeat the GFW and work well in China:
- ExpressVPN: A VPN provider with many years of experience in helping internet users in China to defeat the Great Firewall and visit blocked contents. ExpressVPN is very reliable in China and its VPN connection is usually very fast and stable. When using ExpressVPN in China, it’s suggested to use VPN servers located in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and LA. ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee. Therefore, if you find it not working well after your purchase, you can get a full refund within 30 days.
- NordVPN: A very popular VPN service that also works well in China. NordVPN offers VPN servers in many locations around the world. When used in China, the best performing VPN servers are those in Japan, Hong Kong and US west coast (such as LA, SF etc.). NordVPN also offers a 30 day money back guarantee for users to try out their service.
- VyprVPN: A VPN service based in the U.S. and also works well in China. VyprVPN also offers a large number of VPN server locations, among which the fastest servers for China users are those in Japan, Hong Kong and California. VyprVPN also offers a 30-day money back guarantee policy for users to try out their services.
Fanqiang: Useful Resources
Below are some useful resources related to fanqiang and bypassing the Great Firewall of China:
- China Firewall Test: a website where you can enter a URL and test whether this web page has been blocked by the Great Firewall of China.
- List of Websites Blocked in China: a comprehensive list of websites and services blocked by the Great Firewall of China, maintained by Wikipedia.
- VPNDada: a bilingual website that regularly tests different VPNs in China and reports the VPN testing results. It also has some Chinese articles that cover topics such as recommendations for 好用的VPN and 电脑VPN etc.
- 翻墙者: a Chinese website that dedicated to the topic of 翻墙 and 翻墙软件. On that site you can find a list of most useful websites and services that are currently blocked by the GFW.
Fanqiang (翻墙) is a special word in China, literally meaning jumping the world and often used these days to mean circumventing the Great Firewall of China, which is China’s internet censorship engine that blocks many outside websites and services. With the correct tools and software, such as some good VPNs that works well in China, fanqiang is still possible. Have fun doing it!