Around the world, people use WhatsApp to send messages to their friends, family, and groups. But not in China. You see, the Chinese government blocked WhatsApp back in 2017. Which means that the residents of China lost the possibility to use the app for video calls, messages, image sharing, and many other things.
If you’re visiting China and you want to stay in touch with WhatsApp users, you’ll need to get around this block. Doing so requires some careful consideration, but it’s not impossible.
If you’re ready to proceed with caution, read on! You’ll learn how certain kinds of specialized anonymity services can allow you to access WhatsApp in China.
How to access WhatsApp in China
The best and safest method to unblock WhatsApp in China is using a Virtual private network (VPN).
Compared to other anonymity tools, VPNs are the easiest and most popular way to access the uncensored Internet from China. With the right VPN provider, protocol, and client application, you’ll be chatting on WhatsApp from within China in no time.
Because the situation with GFW circumvention changes so rapidly, the exact way to unblock a given app does too. However, this kind of process of trial and error has worked in the past:
- Get an access to internet connection in China
- Find a reputable VPN provider that works in China. Given China’s advanced censorship, this can be the hardest part.
- Enable “stealth mode” or choose a stealthy tunneling protocol. Since simple VPN protocols are blocked in China, providers use specialized setups instead. For example, VyprVPN offers their Chameleon protocol, NordVPN has Obfuscated Servers, while Surfshark has Camouflage Mode.
- Connect to the VPN. Choose a server outside of China and connect.
- Try WhatsApp. Open WhatsApp (or another blocked app) and see if it works. If it doesn’t, you might have to try another provider.
What is a VPN?
Virtual private networks use a variety of tunneling protocols to shuttle traffic from a point on one network to another. Originally, they were intended to allow people to access internal network resources remotely. Companies around the world continue to use VPNs for this purpose.
In addition to securing this type of communication, you can also use a VPN for anonymity. By putting lots of users’ traffic through one network, VPNs make it hard to figure out who’s who.
In the case of accessing WhatsApp from China, using a VPN makes it easier to access an external network from within China.
How to choose a VPN for WhatsApp in China
The most important element of accessing any blocked site from within China is choosing the right VPN. The Chinese government quickly shuts down or blocks VPNs, so recommendations are constantly changing. For this reason, we won’t be listing specific solutions.
However, some general policies and suggestions can make the searching process easier:
- Look for recent endorsements of VPN services. A service that worked a year ago might not work today.
- Ask around for services used by westerners. Most WhatsApp users are westerners, and someone else might have already figured out a solution.
- Be prepared to spend some money. Good, reputable VPNs aren’t necessarily cheap, although they aren’t crazy expensive either.
Other tools and methods to bypass the Great Firewall
To access WhatsApp in China, you’ll need some kind of tool to make your Internet connection appear to originate from outside of the mainland. People looking to bypass the Great Firewall have developed a number of strategies over the years:
- Open proxies, which simply relay all traffic passing through. This simple circumvention method was largely effective many years ago, but the GFW’s advanced deep packet filtering quickly rendered it ineffective.
- Tor, a far more advanced anonymity tool. While state censors have blocked all entry points into the Tor network, alternative access methods have been developed. Some approaches combine hidden proxies with the Tor network to break through the firewall anonymously.
Is it dangerous to use a VPN in China?
Possibly. While using a VPN isn’t explicitly illegal, you open yourself up to some risk this way. Even with the use of a VPN, anything you say can be held against you. Chinese authorities are sure to prosecute any speech deemed to be in violation of the law.
When crossing borders or traveling between cities within China, you will likely have to hand over your smartphone. In addition to searching your phone for any potentially illegal content or usage, authorities might delete VPN apps used to bypass the GFW.
While it’s not directly dangerous or illegal to use a VPN within China, you might run into a variety of other concerns. Whatever you do, be careful with your online posts and messages within the country.
How to configure a VPN for complete anonymity
While VPNs are a powerful tool for circumventing censorship and gaining anonymity, they aren’t perfect. You can’t ever gain perfect anonymity with any technology (including a VPN), but you can get pretty close. Here are some suggestions to improve your anonymity while using a VPN:
- Don’t sign into your own accounts. If you log into an account in your name, you’ll instantly deanonymize yourself. If you want to guarantee anonymity, you’ll need to create a separate account, even for WhatsApp.
- Avoid telltale browsing habits. If at all possible, avoid visiting particular sequences of websites that might give away who you are.
What are the alternatives to WhatsApp in China?
If you can’t get WhatsApp working in China or you aren’t interested in assuming the risk, you might be interested in local options instead. Beware, however – Chinese apps like WeChat will offer you no privacy whatsoever.
Why is WhatsApp illegal in China?
WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which is also blocked in China. Since Facebook is unwilling to give the Chinese government permission to moderate and censor messages on WhatsApp, they blocked it.
In general, the Chinese government seeks to control the information intake of its citizens.
Where else is WhatsApp banned?
WhatsApp is also banned in some other countries, like North Korea, Syria, Iran, the UAE, and Cuba. Over time, these countries might allow it and others might block it depending on political issues in each country.
What are the best methods to unblock WhatsApp in China?
Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the safest ways to access many western social media sites and applications, including WhatsApp.