Even if you weren't paying too much attention to what's happening in China, you might have heard about Xi Jinping. After he came to power in 2012, the government have tightened its grip on the Internet by sealing most of it under the Great Firewall of China. This measure blocks foreign websites that don't align with the Communist party agenda, including Facebook.
This applies to you even if you're just passing through. Naturally, you might be wondering how to connect with friends and family back home. The good news is that there are several ways to go around this wall. Here's how to unblock Facebook in China.
Why is Facebook blocked in China?
Facebook first appeared in Chinese government sights after the July 2009 Ürümqi riots. The activists were using social media to coordinate movements. Naturally, the government contacted Facebook and asked for a lot of data to crush the dissidents. However, Facebook remained uncooperative, so the remaining course of action moving forward was only to deny its access. The logic behind it is that if the government cannot get its grip on the service, it shouldn't be available. Now it applies not only to Facebook but to pretty much every western medium with user-generated content. In short, it's a way to control the public discourse.
The Great Firewall of China is the country's primary method to filter out unwanted connections. And they also substitute unavailable western sites with their domestic versions. These are carbon copies in terms of function but featuring surveillance built into the back end. Most of them also come with automatic filters for politically questionable content. Since foreign websites are unavailable to many users, they choose the easier way out and switch.
The Great Firewall of China is a combination of several blocking methods to filter out unwanted content. For example, they block not only domain names or IP addresses but also particular pages from websites that may otherwise not be banned. Essentially, it examines the data being exchanged and determines whether to allow it based on a set of rules approved by the Communist party.
So, many quick-fix ways to bypass censorship measures like changing your DNS provider may not help. To bypass the Great Firewall, you'll need more serious tools and knowledge how to do it.
Use a VPN to access Facebook in China
The easiest method to bypass the Great Firewall is a VPN or a Virtual Private Network. It creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server so that you could connect to the Internet without being spied on. Because of the encryption, the government can't know what you're doing online, thus granting access to the sites that otherwise would stay blocked.
#1 Find a reliable VPN service provider
VPN service providers are businesses that sell access to their owned server networks for a monthly fee. Using these apps, you can bypass the Great Firewall. However, not everything is as simple as it seems. Not all VPNs are made equal, and not all of them will help you to unblock Facebook. The government owns all VPNs in China, and not only do they don't help to unblock sites, but often they are also spyware apps in disguise.
To make this work, you'll have to find a VPN service provider you can trust. You'll also need to verify if it works in China. Plus, it's always a great idea to confirm that it doesn't keep your usage logs and protects your anonymity with advanced safety measures. One such service is NordVPN - it's extremely secure and proven to work in China.
#2 Get the software
If you're already in China, getting a hold of software can be a tricky task in itself. Many of the provider's websites are blocked altogether. Plus, the official sources like Google Play store aren't available.
However, there are hundreds of different app stores available in China. Some of them are more loosely controlled and include trustworthy VPNs. For example, you can use the F-Droid catalog to find ProtonVPN. This, in itself, could act as a gateway to get more information or other VPN clients.
Also, most VPN providers are well aware that the Great Firewall blocks their pages, so they have special versions of their websites or mirrors. For example, ExpressVPN has a special website version expressobutiolem.onion, which you can only access via Tor browser.
If you're reading this before your trip to China, you should set up your VPN in advance before your trip to save yourself the trouble.
#3 Set up the account
To use your VPN software, you'll have to set up an account. It also means figuring out safe payment methods. You want as little information tied to your personal information on your VPN account. For example, Mullvad can generate an account number without you having to provide an email address, making it impossible to tie the account back to you. It's also a great idea to pay for your VPN using cryptocurrencies. That way, you don't leave a trace on your bank account, making it extremely difficult to link VPN purchase proof. You're dealing with an oppressive government, so it never hurts to be extra cautious.
#4 Set up your client
Once you get all the pieces, what's left is to install the VPN client and log in using your credentials. You might also need to select the appropriate configuration that might be indicated. You should always consult your provider's website if you need to enable anything else to bypass the Great Firewall of China. Keep in mind that your setup could work one day, then return errors the next day, and continue working the day after. Great Firewall is constantly upgraded, and so are VPN services. You can always ask their customer support to help you out.
In general, many of these steps will heavily depend on your chosen VPN provider.
Tor is usually associated with anonymous networks and private browsing. Facebook isn't either of those things. However, you can use Tor to access this social network.
It isn't widely known, but Facebook has an Onion version of the site: Facebookcorewwwi.onion. This isn't a knockoff phishing site, it's a genuine version set up by the official parties. However, it won't work on a regular browser like Chrome or Firefox, you need the Tor browser to access it.
Tor browser uses an open and voluntarily set up overlay network. When you connect via Tor, your connections get passed through several relays set up by other users. Since every next relay is randomly generated, it's impossible to trace back your connection back to you. Essentially, you're hidden behind multiple layers of randomized endpoints, which explains why the site extension is .onion. Here's how to set it up to access Facebook.
#1 Get the Tor Browser
Naturally, if you're in China, their official website torproject.org will be blocked. This is why you should use a VPN to access it. It never hurts to download the files when you're in your home country. Keep them in your thumb drive or in the cloud so you can access it later.
#2 Set up the application
When you install your application, you're greeted with a screen that asks whether you're connecting from a restrictive country. You want to click configure because you'll be using it from China.
#3 Pick a bridge
There's an ongoing debate about which Tor bridges work and which don't. What you should try first is to try the meek-azure bridge. This is a loophole that uses China's dependence on Microsoft's Azure cloud computing services. There's a good chance that this could be insufficient, and you might need to set up the Obfsproxy protocol. It's used to scramble your traffic to defeat the deep packet inspection.
#4 Go to Facebook
Once you've established your connection through Tor relays, you can now access the Facebookcorewwwi.onion version of the site. You should be able to do all the things you could with your regular version of Facebook.
If the website doesn't load, you might need to disable HTML5 Canvas. Just change the settings from Standard to Safer or Safest.
Shadowsocks was built to do one thing and the one thing only – bypass the Great Firewall. It works similarly to a VPN because you're also connecting to a remote server with free access to the Internet and it encrypts your connection. The main difference between Shadowsocks and a VPN is that it simulates regular HTTPS traffic, which can pass through the Great Firewall, not raising any suspicion. Mind you, it's less concerned about hiding user privacy than Tor or VPNs are. Here's how you can use it.
#1 Gain access to a remote Shadowsocks server
If you want to use Shadowsocks, you must already have a server you're planning to connect to. If you're using a VPN client, many of the tips mentioned above will also apply here. You will likely find a provider with Shadowsocks capabilities, saving you the struggle of manual set up. That way, you can install their software and toggle Shadowsocks from the app. However, if you set up a Shadowsocks server yourself or use one hosted by a friend, here's how to manually configure it on your device.
#2 Get the latest version of Shadowsocks client
In good DIY spirit, Shadowsocks is available freely on its GitHub page. Download the latest version and extract the zip file. Of course, GitHub is blocked in China, so you should set up the connection before you're in the country. Otherwise, you'll need to use Tor or VPN to get the install files.
#3 Set up your client
You won't need to install anything. Just extract the zip package and launch the executable. You will be greeted with a settings menu. Since there's a prerequisite to know already to which server you'll be connecting, this is where you enter the connection details.
#4 Enable the proxy
If you set up everything correctly, you'll be greeted with a pop-up saying that the connection is successful. Then, you should head to System Proxy and enable Global mode. This will make all your data to go through Shadowsocks, allowing you unrestricted access to the Internet.
Why should you use a VPN in China?
You shouldn't get the wrong idea that a VPN is useful only because it unblocks banned foreign websites. It's an important part of the equation, but it's not everything it does. A VPN service is one of the best ways to protect your anonymity on the web. It also protects you from excessive surveillance that can be dangerous when you're passing through places like China or Iran. It applies not only to foreigners but to the natives living there as well.
How to choose a VPN for China?
Choosing the right VPN provider is paramount when you know you'll be in China. If you make the wrong call, you could be locked out of most western internet services for quite some time. Here's what you should take into consideration:
- The ability to bypass the Great Firewall. Not all VPNs have a good track record of bypassing their measures. Do your research in advance, and find the ones that are confirmed to work.
- Adequate security measures. You'll need military-grade encryption with secure tunneling protocols. The safer your tunnel to the remote server is, the safer your whole connection is.
- Immunity from surveillance agencies. Some locations are more respectful of your privacy than others. That's why you should make sure that your VPN provider is based in a privacy-friendly country.
- Features. Special servers for streaming, split-tunneling, and a kill switch are all features that could significantly increase your overall safety and quality of your experience. Always check what's in the package of subscription benefits.
Check our guide with the best VPNs for China to see which is the right choice for you.
Is using Facebook in China legal?
Here's a catch – VPNs aren't officially declared illegal, but they are restricted. For software to be legal in China, it must be approved by the Communist party. What this means is that software becomes legal when the government has a backdoor. However, this applies to companies selling services rather than ordinary users.
If you've heard about the man running a VPN in China that ended up in prison, that's a key takeaway – the selling part. That does not mean that the common folk are in the clear to use them. There are almost no documented cases of someone getting in trouble just by using a VPN. Still, you should be extra cautious in such a restrictive country.
What social media is used in China?
Chinese people spend just as much time on social media. Although Facebook and the like are blocked, many people are actively using VPNs to bypass the Great Firewall. However, this facilitated the growth of their native platforms as well. So, Weibo and WeChat are noteworthy examples of popular Chinese social media.
You may also like to read:
- How to unblock YouTube
- Best VPNs for Facebook
- Best alternatives to popular Chinese apps
- How to unblock WhatsApp in China
- How to unblock Grindr
Can foreigners use Facebook in China?
No. The Great Firewall of China applies to all users residing in the country regardless of their citizen status. However, it's possible to circumvent the block by using a VPN, Tor, or Shadowsocks with a remote server. That way, through intermediaries, you can access all the content that otherwise would be blocked.
Is social media banned in China?
No. By definition, social media isn't blocked in China, criticising the government is. Western companies do not submit to excessive China's requirements that defy simple human rights, including free speech. Thus, they try to limit all instances when the people can revolt, which means blocks for unmonitored social media websites.
Can you access Facebook in China?
Yes. However, you'll need a VPN or some other method to circumvent the block. Facebook is blocked since 2009. Other notable sites inaccessible in China are: Wikipedia, Netflix, Instagram, Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Twitter, YouTube, and the list goes on.
Will China lift its ban on Facebook?
Seeing how the Chinese government is treating the opposition it’s unlikely that soon you could expect the ban to be lifted. On the contrary, the restriction potentially can become a lot worse when it comes to free speech and unrestricted internet access.