VPN, WeChat, and QQ: Getting Past China’s “Great Firewall”

September 22, 2014
VPN, WeChat, and QQ: Getting Past China's "Great Firewall"

Accessing the Internet in China is no easy task, even with the abundance of WiFi networks. Over the years, the Chinese government has taken measures to regulate Internet access for its citizens. As a result, many popular websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google have become inaccessible. However, there are ways to get around this “Great Firewall.”

The first way is to purchase a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows the user to protect their personal information and activity while surfing the Internet. It is especially useful in China because it allows users to access the Internet from various private networks rather than the Chinese public networks. Also, in my experience, the VPN actually improves Internet speed for video streaming.

There are many different types of VPN services available but the one I use and recommend is called Astrill.

If you want to make Chinese friends, it’s best to adapt to their system of communication.

Astrill is available for purchase in three month, six month, and one year installments. For travelers intending on staying in China for a semester or year abroad I highly suggest this investment. The VPN service allows smooth and reliable access to websites normally unavailable like Facebook, Netflix, and Google. Best of all, travelers can use the VPN on multiple devices including laptops, smart phones, and tablets.

For short-term travelers – less than three months – who do not want to invest in a VPN service, there are other options such as proxy servers. While these are not as reliable as VPNs, they still get the job done. During my study abroad in China in 2011, I used a proxy server called Freegate. It’s a free, downloaded software that works on a lower degree of security than a VPN. That being said, it functions in a similar fashion.

Both of these options allow travelers to China to stay connected to their favorite social media outlets. Another one is to use networking apps.

VPN, WeChat, and QQ: Getting Past China’s “Great Firewall”

Cellphones are the lifeblood of the Chinese people. You will seldom see a person of any age without one. Cellphone providers such as China Mobile and China Unicom still charge calls by the minute and texts individually. There are no “unlimited” plans available, as of yet.

With this in mind, the Chinese public has found a way around this limitation. Applications like WeChat and QQ function through WiFi and data, and they are the preferred method of communication.

WeChat is very similar to Whatsapp and Line, though no one in China uses the latter two apps. It is available for both Android and Apple smart phones. With WeChat, you can type text or send 60-second sound bite messages. Those are the primary functions; though it has many more including: games, stickers, and moments. Moments are just like a Facebook wall. Users can upload pictures, post a status, or even share links and music with their network.

It’s easy to connect with others on WeChat. There is, of course, the traditional method of searching for a friend’s username. WeChat has incorporated more modern methods of locating contacts.

For example, each user is assigned their own QR code, which can be scanned to locate another user’s account easily.

Cellphones are the lifeblood of the Chinese people.

Another interesting part of using WeChat is the “People Nearby” features. With this feature, users can meet new people in the area. The “People Nearby” feature searches for other WeChat users in the area and connects them to each other. While WeChat is the most popular form of communication in China, it is not the only means of staying connected.

Remember AIM (AOL Instant Messenger)? Well QQ is the Chinese equivalent of AIM. It’s available for use on the computer as well as on mobile phones. It’s an instant messaging program in its most basic form. When a user obtains a QQ account, he or she also gains a QQ email address as well as a QZone account.

Having a QQ email address is useful for people who cannot access their Gmail accounts without the use of a VPN or proxy server. QZone is similar to Moments on WeChat or a Facebook wall where users can share pictures and post a status.

It seems like everyone in China uses WeChat and QQ so if you want to make Chinese friends, it’s best to adapt to their system of communication.


VPN, WeChat, and QQ: Getting Past China’s “Great Firewall”

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Have you traveled to China? What were your impressions?  Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.  Photo credit: Unsplash. 

About Katie Sill

Katie Sill is a graduate student from Dallas, Texas living and working in Hangzhou, China. In addition to teaching English at Hangzhou Dianzi University, Katie is conducting original research pertaining to women’s roles within Chinese culture.

2 thoughts on “VPN, WeChat, and QQ: Getting Past China’s “Great Firewall”

  1. LHSanders
    November 19, 2018

    Within a month, my wife and young daughter will be traveling to China to “pickup” our newly adopted daughter – financial constraints do not allow me to travel with them on this trip.

    While there, we want to be able to video chat on our phones (or laptops) each evening (their time), so that I can talk to all my girls, and so our new daughter can become at least slightly familiar with her “new” dad before they get back home to the USA; I.E. She’ll be able to see Daddy talking to her new big sister each day “Hi Sweetie, I love and miss you” type stuff, which we hope will assist in the expected “bonding” issues we’re facing.

    I’ve been told by a few folks that WeChat will allow us to do this (Videochat between China and Wisconsin, USA); but have no further information to assist us in this. Is this a reliable option for us? Or do we need to get a VPN? Do we need both, or…?

    We very much appreciate ANY advice you can offer us on this – and if you could respond directly to my email address it would also be helpful.

    Thank you so much, and God bless!

  2. September 22, 2014

    Great article, Katie! Based on my experience in China, people do not use e-mails as often, even with coworkers and superiors. Wechat was definitely the communication tool of choice.

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