No Facebook in China

I can’t access WordPress in China. I can legally read my website, but I can’t log in to administer it. The government has an intense censorship on certain social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They’ve even gone so far as banning certain search terms on sites like Google and Yahoo, including “freedom,” “iodized salt” (after the nuclear disaster in Japan) and anything that could be construed as antigovernment opinion.

-Photo courtesy of Social Maximizer

Not only are all of these sites, and more, consistently unaccessible to the Chinese pubic, there are frequent “shut downs” of any site, whether news or personal, that publishes something the government doesn’t want its people to see. They actually employ tens of thousands of people to monitor the world wide web.

When I search for such sites, I get an error screen that says, “Safari can’t open the page because the server where this page is located isn’t responding.” Of course it doesn’t say it has been banned, it simply looks as if I typed in the wrong address, or my connection isn’t working.

But I am on Wordpress. And I’m in China.

Or am I?

The truth is…magic. Or something like it. I appear to be in two places at once – China and the U.S.A. It’s called a VPN (virtual private network), an application I can download to my computer that, when turned on, changes my settings to appear as if I’m accessing the web from Texas, therefore allowing me to enjoy the same freedoms we take for granted back home.

-Photo courtesy of Silicon Cloud 

Maxine, the young lady who kindly picked me up from the airport, had never heard of Facebook before. I knew about this issue prior to my arrival, but I questioned her out of curiousity – to see how well the government actually can hide such a (almost) worldwide addiction such as Facebook (955 million users). I was shocked when she asked what it was, but I later discovered most students have in fact heard of the famous site, they just don’t necessarily feel left out.

China has its own blogging platform, Weibo, where workers can directly censor each post before it goes public; and its own version of our popular social media sites called QQ, which is like a combination of Facebook, Gmail and YouTube.

EVERYONE is on QQ. It’s the main form of communication for youngsters and adults alike, and it’s assumed that everyone has a QQ number. So, technically, they can enjoy all the things we love about social media, they just can’t expand their friend base internationally. If I ever learn how to sign up for a QQ number (the site is all in Chinese, but I know people have done it), I won’t be able to keep in touch with my QQ friends once I leave…

…unless I then use my VPN to appear as if I’m in China. A VPN has several benefits including the ability to feel safe when using the internet in public places and to create an untraceable browser path (I won’t even get into the terrifying fact that people can and probably do use them to aid their sick obsessions, whatever they may be), though I plan only to use it as a way to access my own sick obsessions – Facebook and WordPress (It appears I share this obsession with 60 million other users, according to this Forbes article, and that’s not counting the people who just view their sites).

There are several choices when it comes to signing up for a VPN. Free options such as FreeGate and OpenVPN work, though I hear not consistently. If you’re willing to pay anywhere from $5 to $7 per month, you can get a trusted membership through companies such as Astrill and GoTrusted, and never have to worry about the amount of other users online at the same time.

It’s possible I won’t be able to read this post from China after it publishes. Thank goodness I can still connect from Texas.


  1. Edna says:

    Welcome to China, haha. I actually wrote my senior honors thesis on censorship and twitter in China — it’s quite an interesting (if not a little complicated) field. Will be interesting to see how it evolves in the future.

    • jessicajhill says:

      I found the Google debate particularly interesting! You probably already know, but Google essentially removed the site from China until they could agree to leave it uncensored. Currently, the only places with Google sites are Beijing and China. I’d love to hear more about the Twitter information you found!

  2. nicole says:

    mind is blown want more information

  3. Coreen says:

    Interesting very interesting…. I am going to read up more on this subject. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Courtney says:

    WOW! That is really interesting and super cool!

  5. Austin says:

    Hey Jessica, QQ works here in the states just fine. I talked with people from CQ this morning. Ask your students if they prefer google to soso or weibo. When I searched for things on google it would work the first time. Then go out for 30 seconds or so. But everyone preferred google to the chinese version, which sucked. And to get a QQ just search for QQ in english. That’s how I got mine. And FYI VPN’s are illegal in china, so don’t advertise the fact, or make the police angry. How’s your clases.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks, Austin. I did search for QQ in English and didn’t find it, but have since learned how to look for it. Google is actually Google Hong Kong, which I don’t find particularly helpful, but I’ll see what my students think.

      And of course VPN’s are illegal – like all the other laws that nobody follows!

      Classes are great. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Ashley says:

    China just made it’s own Facebook called “Ren Ren” (people people). It probably has almost as many users as Facebook. It of course is monitored. Good luck with the VPN!

  7. Jet says:

    Nice article you’ve written here jess 🙂 I’ve actually just figured out how to set up your own free proxy/vpn. Seems like you use a mac though (mentioned safari)? I don’t know how to set it up on those yet..
    Anyway, here’s a link to the guide I wrote

  8. Karen says:

    It’s hard to imagine that there are people who don’t know that Facebook exists… I use a proxy service to access Facebook in China. While you’re in Texas and China, I’m in Los Angeles and China! 🙂

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