Dateline: Batumi, Georgia
During my first trip to China in 2009, I was sitting in a family’s home in Hangzhou and they decided to turn up the heat for me. Even in December, they don’t usually use the heaters in Southern China because they just get used to it being a little chilly. However, since their guest was from the US, they were very nice to turn it up… until the circuit breaker went off and all the electricity in the house went out.
That little experience made me realize that China operates on a slightly different wavelength.
One of the things digital nomads are very aware of is China’s Great Firewall, which makes it difficult to access Google, Facebook, YouTube, The New York Times, Twitter, Netflix, and other western internet services. While inconvenient for foreigners in the country, the firewall is not entirely insurmountable (more on that in a minute). What it is, more than anything else is China’s response to globalization.
Part of why the Great Firewall exists (and will continue to exist) is because, like so many other countries, China has chosen to protect its companies. Similar to other Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, China has made the decision in a much bigger way to ensure the investment and protection of Chinese companies.
Asian countries in general — even if they are relatively free market — are known to be protective of companies in their country and encouraging those companies to succeed. In the book “How Asia Works”, Joe Studwell discusses this tendency. In some countries they do so through low-interest rate loans, in others, they grant them special operating conditions. Sometimes this favoritism looks like South Korea promoting Kia and Hyundai, other times it surfaces on the extreme end of things with the Great Firewall of China.
The war is lost
Whether you agree with their economic policies or not, the Great Firewall of China has largely succeeded in its effort to promote Chinese dominance in the e-commerce market. All the analysts and experts agree that the war for the internet in China is lost for US companies. Their chance to dominate is over.
Services like Alibaba, founded by Jack Ma, are not only worth a gazillion dollars, but they’re also creeping in to western culture. People who are living the Nomad Capitalist lifestyle of location independence are now using Chinese websites like Alibaba to communicate with people in China, rather than Chinese people using US sites.
When you spend time in Asia — whether it’s Japan or Southeast Asia or wherever — it’s not uncommon to simply use the apps that are common to the region. When I lived in Malaysia we had different services. People always asked “What’s your Whatsapp?” In other places they’d ask you for your Line, in others it was WeChat. In China they’ve got all kinds of different things and they’re using the Chinese services for so much more than just chat apps. For example, they have payment apps where you can sell stuff and get paid through the app.
Essentially, all the US app makers and e-commerce folks have missed the boat in China. Meanwhile, all these Chinese entrepreneurs are launching everything from their own Chinese Victoria’s Secret fashion show to their own e-commerce apps and websites to Chinese social media platforms.
China — unlike countries such as Georgia, or even Singapore, with their limited populations — doesn’t have to worry about selling to the rest of the world. They have a domestic market. They don’t necessarily need to market anywhere else or let anyone on the outside in. That’s why the firewall exists.
The Georgia’s and Singapore’s of the world, on the other hand, have no other option than to provide wealth services to the Chinese and other wealthy Asians. That’s why Singapore’s industry is built on finance and services for a global market. Conversely, China doesn’t need the world.
Now, I’ve been to China many times. I know China and plenty about it. If you’re worried about getting past the firewall while you are there, let me assure you that there are lots of pretty simple ways to get around it. Everyone in China does it. The firewall exists in part to censor information, but it has done an even better job of fomenting and protecting Chinese companies. However, just like the electricity that went out with a little heat in my friend’s home in Southern China, there are ways to bypass the Great Firewall of China.
I will soon be visiting China again after a two-year break. I’ve long loved China, but I’ve realized that in my current situation it’s not the best place for ME to be investing. Still, I’m excited to be going back. In preparation for my return, I’ve started talking to other people who have more recent experience there on how to get past the Great Firewall of China.
Here’s what they had to say:
Utilizing a VPN to Bypass The Great Firewall of China
Chinese internet users have always found ingenious ways to get past China’s Great Firewall. Among those methods, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are probably the most popular way to do so. VPN technology keeps your private information secure and protected while allowing you to maintain complete internet freedom. As a Nomad Capitalist looking to maintain your personal liberties, it’s vital that your communications and important data are not subjected to unjust government snooping or third-party hacking.
Some VPNs are blocked by the Chinese government, but others are still up and running and being used by numerous nomads to conduct business in China without restrictions. VPN technology encrypts your Internet connection, masking your true location and providing you with an added layer of security to access an open, free Internet.
The Great Firewall of China might be here to stay, but you don’t have to subject yourself to Internet censorship and government snooping. Traveling to China might be the best step for you to flourish as a Nomad Capitalist, but first, you must secure your Internet privacy. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to set up your own personal VPN immediately:
1. Sign up with a trusted VPN service.
2. Download your VPN and launch the application on your preferred device(s).
3. Select a server to connect to.
4. Once you connect to a server the VPN will assign you an IP address.
5. Use the Internet with confidence knowing that your privacy is protected.
And that’s it! Here are some of the best VPN services out there to get you started
SaferVPN is a leading Virtual Private Network and cybersecurity SaaS service. Connecting through SaferVPN allows you to access a private, remote network that enables you to change your online location and browse through a secure, encrypted connection. This means you can anonymously surf the web as if you were in your country of choice and bypass censorship and geo-restrictions.
With SaferVPN you will have full access within China to otherwise blocked services like Facebook, Google and Instagram. The good news is that there are a variety of VPN apps for different devices, so bypassing restrictions can be quite simple. For instance, SaferVPN offers cross-platform apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Chrome.
CyberGhost is a privacy and security company based in Romania that secures and anonymizes the online presence of over 10 million users across the globe. CyberGhost defends privacy as a basic human right and was the first company in the industry to publish a transparency report while building new user-oriented crypto-technology for the future.
The company’s success has come as it has guaranteed privacy, anonymity, and protection, reaching 10 million users in just 5 years. Initially founded in Germany, CyberGhost moved to Bucharest in 2011 after law enforcement attempts to oblige the company to hand over user data. Moving to Bucharest, Romania, the company found a business environment supported by the local legislation where it can guarantee the freedom and anonymity of its users by not keeping any type of data.
CyberGhost has introduced the “Privacy as a Business” concept and is among the few commercial VPN’s that does not keep logs. They are constantly involved in various projects to support access to the free internet. Some of their projects are related to investigative journalism, freedom of the press, and other ideas and start-ups related to privacy.
For those trying to bypass the Great Firewall of China, CyberGhost also provides full internet access to restricted content in countries with non-democratic governments. CyberGhost is available for iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Android and supports Linux and other OS operated devices.
You can read more here from CyberGhost’s CEO, Robert Knapp, on internet freedom in China.
Elizabeth Kintzele from Golden Frog spoke to us about the company’s VPN product, VyprVPN. Through this service they offer people access to a private, secure, free and open internet connection. They are proud to be one of the only VPN providers that works in China, and are able to both bypass censorship under the Great Firewall and defeat VPN blocking performed by the Chinese government.
China is no stranger to censorship and surveillance. The Great Firewall, formally known as the Golden Shield Project, is a mechanism that was initiated in 1998 to control and monitor the Chinese public. With 25% of websites now blocked in China, it is now more crucial than ever to circumvent the Great Firewall in order to access websites important to your own personal success as a Nomad Capitalist.
VyprVPN offers a variety of different VPN protocols and doesn’t use third-party servers. With VyprVPN you can choose from over 70 server locations around the world. Then, once you connect to a server, VyprVPN will assign you one of their 200,000+ IP addresses.
Private Internet Access VPN
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a VPN service with over a million paid subscribers to date. For users in China trying to bypass the Great Firewall, using an encrypted tunnel between your computer and PIA servers that obfuscate everything you do online has obvious benefits.
Private Internet Access is a subscription service that costs $6.95 per month. Good news! A whole year is discounted at $39.95. Private Internet Access believes that every netizen should be able to use the same Internet, and condemns any country that stands in the way of that. Once you sign up for PIA, you’ll need to download the latest installer which is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.
Other VPN services
Other VPN services that deserve mention include Trust.Zone, ExpressVPN, StealthVPN, and SoftEther. According to Nick Adams at cryptmode.com, the most popular OpenVPN protocol is the worst option to use in China. The Chinese government puts a high priority on internet censorship, which means that the Firewall constantly evolves to block out more and more efforts to bypass the wall — an endless game of cat and mouse to say the least. Choosing the most popular options often means you are choosing the biggest target that will soon be defeated. (To get more of Nick’s suggestions, click here.)
Beyond traditional VPNs
Dynaweb is a peer-to-peer proxy network offered by Freegate that creates a proxy only when needed. In other words, local Chinese sites do not need to be re-routed through an extra server, only blocked sites. And, unlike VPN services, Freegate’s proxy network service is free.
VPNGate is another non-traditional approach to bypassing the Great Firewall of China. It is a volunteer project created at a Japanese university that allows people across the globe to offer their computers as an exit point for users in China. Instead of routing traffic through a VPNs central server, traffic goes through volunteer terminals.
Other options include SSH tunneling (for more technical people) and Tor (with bridges), both of which you can read about here.
Hong Kong SIM card
One digital nomad discovered a much simpler solution to bypassing China’s Great Firewall. Instead of paying for a VPN service, you can take advantage of a recent change in CMHK’s terms and conditions and get past the firewall with a Hong Kong SIM card on China Mobile’s LTE network in the Mainland.
Since Hong Kong is not within the limits of the Great Firewall, and since a mobile phone utilizing international roaming creates a tunnel to its home carrier, all your data is re-routed through Hong Kong meaning you have the same internet access you would have in Hong Kong. If you want access on more than just your phone, you can use tethering to expand access to your laptop or tablet as well.