The Problem of Using VPN in China
China is a great country. No question about that. When you are traveling in China, you will be amazed by the rich culture, long history and fast development of this country.
However, there's one problem when you stay in China: the Internet.
If you have not heard of the Great Firewall of China (also known as the Golden Shield Project), You should start learning its power. Basically, it's a firewall in China that monitors internet traffic and blocks websites that are not "Good".
Many websites are blocked in China: Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, The New York Times, BBC, and many many more.
That's why people use VPNs to bypass the Great Firewall of China, hoping to unblock those websites. The good news is: VPN is indeed a good tool for unblocking websites in China. The bad news is: many VPNs don't work in China at all, because the Great Firewall also blocks VPN traffic (if it can detect it).
Many VPN services just don't work in China at all. For example, HideMyAss, Private Internet Access, IPVanish etc. You can't access the websites for those VPN providers and even if you manage to download their software or app, it won't work.
As a matter of fact, there are even some VPN testing services specializing in testing VPN for China. For example, VPNDada. And you can follow their updates on which VPNs work well in China and which don't. It seems like other than the two VPN mentioned earlier, the following VPNs also work pretty well in China: VyprVPN, PureVPN and even some low-cost VPN services.
Many people choose to install their own VPN system. For example, you can set up an OpenVPN server outside of China and connect it from China. But the problem is that now the Great Firewall is very good at detecting OpenVPN traffic and once your OpenVPN traffic is detected, you will find you won't be able to connect to it or use it smoothly anymore. That means, your OpenVPN server has been blocked.
Another good choice is Shadowsocks, which is a relatively new technology that is known for working even better than VPN. If you can set up a Shadowsocks server outside of China, it would be a better idea than setting up your own OpenVPN server because Shadowsocks is better at hiding from the Great Firewall.
But the bad news is: the Great Firewall is evolving and getting better every day. Who knows when your VPN or Shadowsocks will be interrupted and stop working? For this reason, many people choose to have more than one VPN account. This way, there will be a backup one if the main VPN stops working.
There are some free VPNs in China as well. If you want to use VPN for a short period of time, those free VPNs might work well enough. But their speed and reliability are usually not compatible with those of paid VPNs. Therefore, it'd be better to spend a few bucks every month to buy a solid VPN service.
Let's hope the internet problem will eventually go away in China. For now this doesn't seem likely yet. But let's keep our fingers crossed.