Reporters Without Borders ranked China dismally low in its index of countries with the least freedoms in terms of internet censorship and freedom of the press. In its latest ranking, Reporters Without Borders ranked China as 176th out of 180 countries, with only Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea ranked lower.
Whether you’re a long-term resident of China or just traveling there for work or vacation, you can expect to have more than a few problems trying to access websites that we have come to take for granted. The law in Eastern societies is drastically different from the cultures and laws in the West. As such, you can expect your internet connection to be much more highly controlled.
The internet and press aren’t nearly as free in China as they are in the West, and content is highly censored. YouTube is no exception, but the good news is that you can securely unblock YouTube content with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunnel.
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Why is YouTube Is Blocked in China
Before we discuss how to unblock YouTube in China with a VPN, let’s talk about China’s internet infrastructure. YouTube is blocked in China for the same reasons that many websites are blocked in most Asian and Southeast Asian countries: for hosting content that is deemed to be offensive by the authorities. There are several other reasons as well, but YouTube was largely blocked because it was politically offensive. Unlike most Western cultures, many Eastern cultures don’t tolerate public criticism or obscene speech directed at political leaders or political parties. This is the complete opposite of Western cultures like the United States, where freedom of speech allows every comedian with a microphone to satirize the powers that be to their hearts’ content.
Naturally, a website that allows any user to upload a personal video is going to contain content that is highly opinionated in nature, and is guaranteed to host some content that could be construed as offensive political content – both domestically and internationally. However, its ‘offensive’ content isn’t the only reason that YouTube was blocked.
China is an extremely competitive nation, and has been competing with Western IT companies and digital services for years. Though Silicon Valley in California has been hailed as the “fertile crescent,” or cradle of the modern internet, competition has grown internationally. China blocks many foreign internet services for the sole purpose of giving domestic Chinese companies an open playing field when trying to reach Chinese markets. Since much foreign competition is blocked, Chinese companies have a far better chance of thriving by capturing larger chunks of Asian markets.
Furthermore, try to imagine how big a problem YouTube is for the authorities. The current estimate is that every minute of every day, there are approximately 400 hours of video content uploaded to YouTube. Even with an entire department devoted to monitoring and filtering, the prospect of keeping YouTube free of offensive material is dismal at best. There would constantly be offensive content popping up, in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. It’s a lot easier to just block the entire domain.
Other Websites Blocked in China
YouTube certainly isn’t the only website blocked in China, nor will it be the last. If you’re traveling or living in China, chances are that you’ve already heard of the Great Firewall of China. If not, note that the Golden Shield Project and the Great Firewall of China are a censorship, filtering, and surveillance initiative controlled by the government, which attempts to stop offensive and undesirable content from being accessible within China.
What exactly constitutes offensive content isn’t always black and white. Sometimes, there is so much gray area that the decision to block content is little more than a judgment call by the authorities. This can surprise Chinese residents when a website is unexpectedly blacked out. In addition to YouTube, there are many other mega-websites that are routinely blocked in China, or that have been blocked in the past. These include:
- Google and Google services like Google Maps, Google Docs, and so forth
- YouTube (owned by…you guessed it…Google)
- The New York Times
- Digital newspapers
If you’re trying to access any of the aforementioned websites, there’s only one viable solution in my opinion: using a VPN tunnel to securely unblock content.
Unblock Youtube in China: Final Thoughts
For now, the best way to unblock YouTube in China is with a VPN tunnel. VPNs are inexpensive, effective and can unblock more sites than just YouTube. Unfortunately, as time marches forward, the Chinese government is tightening its grip upon the use of VPN technologies. These days, many residents and travelers in China need governmental approval to use a VPN tunnel, but it is still possible to use a VPN without the involvement of the authorities.
I highly recommend paying anonymously using an electronic payment method that isn’t tied to a credit or debit card. Anonymous systems like bitcoins are preferred, but even PayPal is better than using a credit card. Also, remember that it’s best to find a VPN tunnel that circumvents deep packet inspection. There are a handful of providers out there with this feature; my favorite is NordVPN.
Last but not least, remember to terminate your VPN tunnel as near to your location (yet still outside of China) as possible, since that will introduce the least latency. My favorite locations in Asia are Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo, though more and more providers are hosting servers in areas like Kuala Lumpur as well.
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