The Nanfang / Blog

VPN Service is Sketchy, Especially on iPhone, After Great Firewall Upgrade

Posted: 01/23/2015 2:56 pm

great wallIf you’ve thought that the VPN on your iPhone hasn’t been working properly in China lately, it’s not just your imagination. Virtual private network provider Astrill said on Wednesday that iOS devices that use VPN protocols IPSec, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP are not accessible in China right now. So far, it’s just iOS devices like iPhones and iPads that are affected. Astrill VPNs on MacBooks still work.

VPN Tech Runo said earlier that many of its services have not been accessible in China either, since December 31. 

An unidentified website that monitors the Chinese internet explained what’s going on:

The Great Firewall is blocking the VPN on the protocol level. It means that the firewall does not need to identify each VPN provider and block its IP addresses. Rather, it can spot VPN traffic during transit and block it.

With the Great Firewall getting harder to climb, companies like Astrill are charging more to do it. The popular VPN provider has already raised its prices to coincide with the Great Firewall update.

Keep in mind, though: there are a number of great VPNs out there. Let us know of others that might work better in the comments.

Photo: flickr


Trying to Access a Blocked Site in China? You Could End Up Looking at Porn

Posted: 01/19/2015 1:20 pm

aec redirected websites china great firewallInternet users looking to access restricted websites in China may find themselves looking at more than they bargained for.

Greatfire is reporting that China’s DNS poisoning system, which forbids Chinese internet users from accessing websites banned in China like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, has received an upgrade. No longer do you just see a message saying the request has timed out. Now it’s much more interesting.

One of Greatfire’s users reports being sent to a government website in Korea when trying to access Another was sent to a Russian website when trying to access Facebook, and yet another said he was sent to a German porn site when trying to access a webpage for a VPN provider.

Greatfire says this effectively results in a DDoS attack against foreign websites. The site points out the upgrade disables many anti-DNS poisoning tools:

Chinese internet users have grown accustomed to websites timing out – and many make the connection with censorship. Maybe the authorities think that, after a transition period, internet users will become accustomed to the new model of DNS poisoning as they have with websites timing out. We do not anticipate that Chinese netizens will react negatively to this change as many are already familiar with such tactics.

We can tell you The Nanfang has experienced similar issues online. When previously trying to access this site, we were redirected to the website seen in the screenshot above, one associated with the Australia Electoral Commission. Now during preparation for this post, the same request now sent us here.

Screenshot: AEC


Google Was Set Free in China for 30 Blissful Minutes, But Permanent Access Unlikely

Posted: 12/16/2014 2:56 pm

Memorial of flowers at Google’s headquarters in Beijing right before the company left China in 2010.

What seemed like the impossible happened for a few minutes yesterday (December 15): calling up from within China showed a beautiful white screen with Google’s logo and a tempting search box underneath, something that hadn’t been seen since the site was blocked in 2010.

Word spread quickly, with netizens noting the change on Weibo and even The Nanfang staff making good use of this newfound search freedom. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t last. Just as people were catching on to Google’s availability, China quickly restored the Great Firewall with Google safely on the other side.

We considered doing a story on Google’s availability yesterday, but it seemed so short lived that perhaps it was a mistake. Today, however, firebrand nationalist newspaper the Global Times confirmed that Google was, indeed, set free for 30 minutes yesterday afternoon. It didn’t give a reason for the temporary change, but used the news as an opportunity to remind Google that it must “follow Chinese laws” to have access to the country.

Global Times also said the country’s ban on Google is working because the Silicon Valley company will “eventually concede” to Chinese conditions, just as Mark Zuckerberg and other US tech giants have shown interest in working with the Chinese government. Zuckerberg recently spoke Chinese at Tsinghua University and was photographed with Xi Jinping’s book on his desk.

Judging from Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s background in the former Soviet Union, we don’t expect Google to be quite as accommodating as Facebook.


Reports Say China to Unblock Facebook During Beijing APEC Summit

Posted: 11/6/2014 9:30 am

Get ready to (temporarily) disconnect those VPNs social media fanatics. According to a report in the Want China Times, China’s Internet censors plan to unblock Facebook during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Beijing. If in fact Beijing lifts the ban, it should happen sometime this week.

We told you that Beijing plans to give government workers a vacation during the summit to reduce traffic and smog, something the government hasn’t done since the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics; however, this move would be unprecedented. What’s more, reports suggest that in addition to Facebook, the ban on popular Google and BBC sites may also be lifted to accommodate visiting dignitaries and their desire to communicate with the outside world.

Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s impressive display of Putonghua proficiency on his recent visit to China has softened Beijing’s attitude toward the social media juggernaut. Either way, enjoy the brief reprieve while it lasts because it probably won’t.


Guy in Shenzhen is Suing China Unicom Because He Can’t Use Google

Posted: 09/5/2014 1:54 pm

Memorial of flowers at Google’s headquarters in Beijing right before the company left China in 2010.

A Shenzhen man has taken the country’s second-largest telecom provider to court because it hasn’t been able to provide him with Google services after several months, reports Global Times.

Twenty-five year-old Wang Long has filed the first lawsuit of its kind against China Telecom after losing access to Gmail and Google. He noted that China Telecom has already admitted its inability to provide these services to him in court.

[I and China Unicom] have a contractual relation. They should offer me telecom services, yet they still failed to provide access [to these sites and services]. They should be held responsible for this failure.

A verdict is expected later this month.

Google pulled its servers out of China in 2010 instead of acquiescing to government demands to censor its search results.

But as an anonymous cyber security expert interviewed by Global Times points out, Wang’s anger is misdirected. The expert said:

China Unicom has nothing to do with the failure. It is Google that should be blamed, since it does not operate its business in China. I call on companies like Google or Twitter or Facebook to offer services in China and accept [proper supervision].

Photo: Epoch Times


Spoofed Google Page Calls On Chinese People To Fight The GFW

Posted: 06/13/2014 10:31 am

google protest great firewall internet censorshipAn image of a Google search page that is spreading like wildfire on Chinese social networks is openly encouraging Chinese internet users to protest against internet censorship in China.

Google is not behind the campaign, however. It’s a campaign launched by It reads as follows [translated from Chinese]:

google protest great firewall internet censorship


If there is no resistance, then there is no freedom

The GFW (The Great Firewall of China) screens and hides all services provided by Google including scientific research important to Google academics. If you feel that this is unacceptable, please forward this page on your Weibo and WeChat accounts. At the beginning of 2013 when the GFW closed off access to Github (code-sharing websites), a majority of programmers complained on Weibo and in work correspondence letters until finally the GFW was re-opened. If there is no resistance, there is no freedom! We request everyone to please forward this webpage to put pressure on the GFW!

We recommend that you please add this to your web browser bookmarks, or to please remember the URL address If there are some webpages that cannot be visited, then please send your feedback to [email protected] and please specify the URL and current version of web browser used.

Another similar version of this webpage can be seen here, and substitutes the URL address as

Google services were most recently targeted in China just before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, reports Bloomberg.

The company’s online presence has been censored in China since 2010 when it announced it would no longer comply with government regulations and redirected users to its Hong Kong site.

Correction: An initial version of this story claimed that Google was calling on Chinese people to fight the Great Firewall. That is incorrect. Google is not involved with this campaign in any way, to the best of our knowledge.

[h/t @missxq]

Photos: Google


China neuters the Net Nanny…. in Chongqing

Posted: 06/25/2011 2:00 am

News this week that China has – finally – lowered the Great Firewall and permitted unrestricted access to the interwebs was greeted by cheers from China’s Internet glitterati — even if it is only in Chongqing.

Rock star and Baidu manager Kaiser Kuo greeted the news by tweeting: “Hells yeah, let’s all move to Chongqing!” (As if they need more people).

Many, many others shared in Kaiser’s enthusiasm, though, including me. When friends fly back to Europe or North America from China, one of the first things they notice is just how fast and responsive the “real” Internet is. We’ve become accustomed to no Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and others unless we have a VPN, which is often painfully slow.

So the experiment in Chongqing is a good sign. The government is setting up what’s called a Cloud Computing Special Zone which will offer unfettered and unrestricted access to the Internet. Several companies have already signed up to do business in the zone; they will mostly provide offshore data services. Details from the Global Times:

One factor that helped gain approval for Chongqing’s cloud special zone is that the Liangjiang New Area is important to the development of western China.

The Chongqing government also agreed to meet several requirements, such as data services for clients within China still under government administration, and relevant departments having the authority to carry out sample inspections on the data in the special zone, the report said.

Cao Yujie, consultant director of CCW Research, an IT market research and consulting agency in Beijing, told the Global Times that the cloud computing business is in its early stages worldwide, adding that there is great potential for its development.

“A special optical cable directly connected to the outside Internet is not necessary to run a cloud zone, but its installation in Chongqing could be attributed to demands of foreign companies as some websites are blocked in China,” Cao said.

China neutering the Net Nanny, even if just in Chongqing, is proof that money really does trump ideology.


Facebook may find a way to enter China

Posted: 04/20/2011 11:26 am

One of the downsides of living up here is the slow and heavily-censored internet. Unless you have a VPN, sites like Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook are all blocked. LinkedIn and Google/Gmail also have their moments.

The blocking of social networking sites began around the time of the riots in Urumqi in 2009. Those holed up in Zhongnanhai figured Twitter was a key tool leading to the revolt in Tehran that year, and it was too risky to hand that tool to the angry masses in Xinjiang. China has been proven correct on its fears: this year Facebook and Twitter have both been key communications and information tools in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria.

Facebook probably never intended itself to be a political tool, but it certainly makes a good one. That aside, it remains focused on growing the already largest social network in the world, and China remains a big black hole. China has more people online than any other country, yet is an area that Facebook has been unable to penetrate due to restrictions on its service here and hot local social networking sites such as Ren Ren Wang and Kaixing Wang, not to mention Sina Weibo (which is more akin to Twitter).

But it won’t give up. Mark Zuckerberg, who has a Chinese girlfriend and is learning Putonghua, toured China last year and met with executives of Baidu, China’s leading search engine. That could have been a catalyst for this deal (courtesy of Bloomberg):

Facebook Inc. has signed an agreement with Baidu Inc. to set up a social-networking website in China, reported, citing unidentified employees at the Chinese search-engine company.

The agreement followed several meetings between Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Baidu CEO Robin Li, reported on its website today. The China website won’t be integrated with Facebook’s international service, and the start date is not confirmed, according to the report.

Some analysts have already said, if this new site is not integrated with Facebook’s global network, they’ll have a hard time competing with the established players (mentioned above).

Where does that leave us? Well, considering the Jasmine Revolutions and high inflation in China, the authentic Facebook won’t be made available here anytime soon. And if you can read Chinese, chances are your Chinese friends are already on Renren or Kaixin. So for your typical expatriate who wants to use a social network, the options are learn to read Chinese or use a VPN.

And on that note, if you need VPN advice, check out our earlier article on the topic.


China declares war on the Internet; here’s how to get around the Net Nanny

Posted: 03/22/2011 6:00 am

It’s been a tough couple of days for Internet users in China. We’ve all become used to no Youtube, no Facebook and no Twitter, but the Net Nanny has at least left more vital services alone, such as email. That has changed in the last few days as China, with unrest in full swing in North Africa, has begun clamping down on what can be accessed online. Yes, it appears leaders have a severe case of the jitters and when that happens, the people inside Zhongnanhai tend to take a conservative stance.

Two major developments have occured; the first is that wildly popular (especially among laowai) email provider Gmail has had intermittent service the last few days. Some users said they couldn’t access their Gmail accounts, others couldn’t send mail, and others couldn’t mark emails as unread. Google itself finally chimed in yesterday, as reported by the Guardian:

“Relating to Google there is no issue on our side. We have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail,” said a Google spokesman. China’s embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment.

The announcement follows a blog posting from Google on 11 March in which the firm said it had “noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users. We believe activists may have been a specific target.” The posting said the attacks were targeting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser. The two firms have been working to address the issue. At the time, Google declined to elaborate on which activists had been targeted or where the attacks had been coming from.

The second major development is that China is beginning to knock out access to VPNs, also known as Virtual Private Networks, or the precious tool that gives us access to Youtube. For those unfamiliar with VPNs, they effectively mask your computer’s IP address (the unique ID given to every device accessing the Internet) and gives it a generic IP address which appears to be from somewhere else, such as the United States. If your computer appears to be in the US, you get two benefits: you can see all the websites behind the Great Firewall, and also have access to US-only services such as Pandora, Hulu and Netflix. Right now, reports on Twitter indicate that Witopia, a popular VPN, and 12vpn are both inaccessible in Mainland China, however this can change minute-by-minute.

One VPN you can try (which still works, at least for me) is Strong VPN. (No, I’m not affiliated with them, although I did find out about them through a friend of mine’s blog.) It’s the best VPN I’ve used thus far, but also a bit pricey. But there are many to choose from, as you can see in this list.

It’s hard to gauge how long the crackdown will last. If I’m a betting man though, knowing how scared China is of any potential unrest, I wouldn’t expect to see Facebook or Twitter unblocked anytime soon, and we can only hope that Gmail will eventually be fully freed.

If you have other VPNs to recommend, please leave them in the comments below.

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