Facebook in China
January 10, 2011 2:24 AM   Subscribe

I am going to China for 4 weeks. How to access Facebook while there?


I know google comes up with numerous alternatives (1. VPN, 2, securitales (which seems to be a paid service), 3. other proxy networks), but it is difficult to gauge the veracity and ease of these many methods.

Has anyone gone to China recently and found something that just works?

I am a Chinese ex-pat currently travelling overseas (I am in Japan and have reliable internet). In a week I will be going to China and will stay there partially in my own lodging and partially with family there. I have my own laptop. What is the best way to access Facebook? Do I have to be concerned with any repercussions that might flow on to my relatives if I use their connections to access Facebook? (I doubt it, but I thought I'd ask.)
posted by kid A to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure whether the Chinese authorities would block it, but I've never had a problem using Hotspot Shield

It's a really simple, free Windows VPN tool. Just install it and switch it on and all of your traffic (web browsing, instant messaging, etc.) is encrypted and exits in the USA.

Good luck :)
posted by mosherdan at 2:40 AM on January 10, 2011

I personally would not dare to perform any actions that a host country asked me not to, but if I were to, I've had, um, people I know tell me that Hotspot Shield is a pretty good if you have admin access and ability to install to the OS. However, I've also heard from people that Ultrasurf is even faster and more reliable and does not require an install, so you should be able to simply run it off a thumb drive (however, you may wish to investigate further as to whether Ultrasurf is either a program developed by freedom fighters or a nefarious botnet app--or something in between).

If you wish to access websites like youtube or facebook and do not have the ability to download a separate application, a simple (though not foolproof) solution, according to reliable people, is to simply use a proxy website. For complex sites with intensive scripting and such, some data may be stripped. I would assume you would still be able to view websites like Youtube and Facebook, but you may not have all the functions you would if you visited the site through a proper VPN. Sometimes the Chinese government plays whack-a-mole and will disable a site for months, or even indefinitely, but here are a few:

PimpMyIP: best; was definitely working as of this summer
Anonymouse: last I heard, it wasn't working, but who knows what it's status is now...
Vtunnel: use as last resort because of all the pop-ups

See previously 1, 2, 3 for more info. IANAL, but consensus seems to be that so long as you are not actively agitating for political change from within China, you and your family don't have much to worry about.
posted by jng at 3:58 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Facebook is 100% blocked in China.

Your options are those which you list: a VPN or some other form of proxy. I've long since invested in a Paid VPN service, and most of them charge monthly, which is good for you. Astril, 12vpn, Strong VPN and VPNinja are all strong options, and offer month to month service. There are countless more, I'm sure, but these are the companies from whom all my friends buy their VPN service. I'm personally a Strong VPN customer.

There are free options, but those go in and out of service so often they are a bit of a headache. HotspotShield was a great option for 6-8 months last year, until their servers were also blocked. Also for web-based proxies, some FB features don't work. IF you're really in need of good, consistent FB access, pony up the $7-14 for a month of VPN.

I would not worry about repercussions for anyone who might own the internet connection by which you access FB.

(written from a laptop in China, on a VPN, with FB open in another tab).
posted by markovitch at 3:59 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would go with a paid service. Actually, I personally would setup my own VPN server on a hosted server with Amazon EC2 or some other hosting provider, after all the more users a VPN service has, the more likely it is to get blocked.
posted by delmoi at 4:47 AM on January 10, 2011

12VPN. Best VPN service out there. I use it in China regularly and it has a free iPhone client included in the very reasonable price (£35 a year I believe).
posted by nickrussell at 5:28 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Friends use 12VPN, Freedur, and StrongVPN; I use Witopia. VPNs are the only reliable way to get to Facebook etc.; web proxies are basically all spotty at best now. Worth noting: in my experience at least, PPTP VPN connections are hit-or-miss here, but OpenVPN connections work great. Hotspot Shield was blocked the last time I checked (about a year ago), but ProXPN, another free service, works pretty well here.
posted by bokane at 7:07 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend recently visited China and was able to access facebook via her kindle. She wasn't able to respond to anyone else's posts, but could post status updates and photos.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 7:39 AM on January 10, 2011

I use Witopia. I don't know how it compares with other services for cost (it's $60/year), but it's been pretty much bullet-proof for me. If you're here for only a month, one of the month-to-month options described by markovitch might be more cost effective.
posted by hawkeye at 8:29 AM on January 10, 2011

My boyfriend was in Shanghai in July and was able to access facebook with no problem. (Sort of--he has too many friends that he doesn't really know, and failed facebook's verify-your-account-from-a-strange-computer-by-identifying-your-friends-in-photos thing.) The theory is that things were routed through Hong Kong. So if you're staying in big cities, you might be fine.
posted by phunniemee at 8:47 AM on January 10, 2011

You don't say what sort of computer you're using, so I'm going to assume mac or linux, even though that's likely not right, because that's what I use and I can tell you how to do it using those.

1) Purchase a webserver somewhere *outside* China, but that can be accessed from within China. You can even purchase a domain to go along with it. The server must come with "ssh access", which most web hosting plans offer at least optionally.

The reason I suggest this method is because it's free for many people who already have their own websites. If you don't already have something like this, it's probably easier to pay for a commercial VPN account.

2) On your laptop, open a command terminal and type the following:
ssh -D 1025 my_username@my_web_server.com

Of course, substitute your own username and domain name into this line (i used tylerkaraszewski.com for mine, because that's my personal website). This will likely ask you for your password. Type it, and you will be logged in to your webserver. You can just leave this window alone for now. *Don't close it, this needs to stay running!*

3) Change your system proxy settings to enable a socks proxy at the address 'localhost' and the port 1025. On Mac OS X you can do this by going to:
System Preferences > Network > (select the network connection you're using, likely "airport" or "ethernet") > Advanced > Proxies:
Then check the "SOCKS Proxy" checkbox, and set "SOCKS Proxy Server" to "localhost" and the bit after the ":" to "1025".
Click "OK" and then "Apply"

4) Browse the web. Your traffic is first encrypted, and then sent to your webserver in the US. It's then un-encrypted and passed along to the original site you wanted to talk to (facebook), and then the opposite happens for the trip back. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, you're simply doing administrative tasks on your webserver back home.

5) When you're done, turn off the proxy in your settings, and then type "exit" in the terminal to stop the tunnel.

Note: This uses bandwidth on your webserver. You're probably allowed a finite amount of this before you get charged extra, so you don't want to stat doing things like downloading HD movies or something over the tunnel, unless your web host gives you a lot of bandwidth.

This also assumes that DNS works from inside China, and you can resolve "facebook.com" while there. There's a slightly more complicated solution for getting around that problem as well, if it's also a problem.

Also, I have not tested this solution from China, but it works from Europe and central America, and handily tricks websites into giving you pages back in English instead of say, Greek or Spanish.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:35 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I asked a friend who regularly travels to China and updates FB more regularly there than he does at home:


Totally cheap. Never failed. Highly recommended. 

So there you go...
posted by i_cola at 11:15 AM on January 10, 2011

My friend is living in China right now around a bunch of expats. They don't try to use Facebook.
posted by cmoj at 11:58 AM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: I use StrongVPN, because they have a $55/year deal going. It works well, though unfortunately it can be a bit slow when trying to stream Youtube videos at certain times of the day. This is likely a problem with the pipes going outside China, however; I could stream hulu 480p video from Europe. I've also used FBVPN, which gives you a month for $5.

As for blocking VPN services, either they're not competent enough or, more likely, they don't really care. There's a cafe/bar/restaurant near my house that has an access point which routes all your traffic through VPN, and if they're not afraid of repercussions, I would think you're safe!

Right not L2TP does not work on my ADSL, and PPTP does not work on my 3G (both China unicom), so don't give up if your initial configuration doesn't work. For an unblockable solution, spring for an OpenVPN solution, which will look like innocent HTTP traffic.

Chinese colleagues have reported free services that work, but I personally wouldn't trust a free proxy service to log in to any of my accounts.

If you're having problems with DNS, clear your DNS cache and use OpenDNS.
posted by Aiwen at 8:00 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Many thanks to all of you. I used FBVPN, paid $5 for a month's access and i am facebooking and youtubing here in merry Guilin. Thanks again!!
posted by kid A at 6:48 AM on January 18, 2011

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