The Great Firewall of China: Sites You Cannot Access in the PRC Felix Wong

Ever since my dad fully retired three years ago, he and my mom have been touring China quite a bit, a country he moved away from at age 13 but still very much loves. Happily, my folks invited me to join them again (I last did so in May 2014), this time to the Fujian province and Guangzhou. The latter is part of the Guangdong province and where my father lived until emigrating from China when he was 13.

China is a pleasant country to visit—much more than you would think if all you heard from western media was about its air quality woes or human rights issues—but one thing that can be inconvenient for a westerner is not being able to access web sites he or she is accustomed to. It has been pretty unfortunate, for example, that my mom has not been able to read her GMail.

Below is a list of popular sites that are not accessible without some sort of Virtual Private Network (VPN) in China. Note that this list only applies to mainland People’s Republic of China and does not apply to Hong Kong or the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Banned Sites

  • All of Google (including GMail). Usually not a big deal for me since I use Bing for search and my mail is hosted on Outlook.com, but I do use Google Voice for texting and this is blocked in China.
  • YouTube, a Google property.
  • Facebook (including Messenger, but not WhatsApp)
  • Instagram (owned by Facebook)
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • CyberGhost VPN

It goes without saying that there numerous other sites like controversial news sites or smut that are blocked.

What’s Not Blocked

  • Bing and other Microsoft properties (e.g., Outlook, OneDrive, Microsoft Health)
  • Skype (owned by Microsoft). This is my go-to app for text and video messaging from China.
  • WhatsApp (owned by Facebook)
  • Wikipedia
  • Twitter
  • Duolingo
  • Strava
  • Amazon

The “Great Firewall” Is Not Everywhere in China?

At the Holiday Inn Shifu hotel in Guangzhou, access to Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter was permitted. I’m not sure if this is because of Guangzhou’s proximity to Hong Kong, or because the Holiday Inn is an American hotel with access to less restricted Internet.

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