national people's congress

Good Luck Accessing Facebook: China Clamps Down on VPNs During “Two Sessions”

Astrill users hit particularly hard

VPN users in China are experiencing another round of service disruptions as Chinese authorities continue to clamp down on freedoms to access and share information on the Internet.

A number of Chinese VPN (virtual personal networks) users, particularly Astrill, have said they have been unable to circumvent Chinese internet protocols. On the other hand, users of other VPNs have reported no change to their service whatsoever.

VPN problems arose last month when Astrill, Golden Frog, and StrongVPN all said their Chinese services had been compromised in some way. Students and personal users seem to be most affected by the outages, while services to business appear to be unaffected.

As with previous service disruptions, Astrill had noted the service disruption was most severe for clients using iOS devices.

Meanwhile, the current VPN outages coincide with the annual twin sessions for the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Colloquially known as the “two sessions”, this important political event is where China’s lawmakers meet each year to propose new laws.

Like other high-profile events hosted in the capital including last fall’s WWII victory celebrations, the two sessions are accompanied by blue skies (after a smoggy start) and a clamping down of controls over China’s internet.

Popular with expats residing in China, Astrill had faced disruptions before. Severe outages struck Astrill users last fall and at the top of the year, again mostly affecting users with iOS devices.


Back in January, a former Google security engineer revealed that a number of VPN service providers may be putting their clients at risk for using outdated encryption technology, allowing Chinese authorities access to personal information.

VPNs are services that allow Internet users in China to bypass security protocols (colloquially known as the “Great Firewall of China”) and enable access to prohibited websites such as Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor