The experience of the internet in China is very different from many other countries. One of the most important reasons for that is the presence of the GFW (Great Firewall of China). Some of the consequences of its existence are direct, while many more are indirect.
The Great Firewall is a national firewall. Chinese government uses it to restrict internet access in China mainland. Taiwan and the two SAR Macau and Hong Kong enjoy a separate access, without influence from the firewall.
This firewall has several automatized behaviors, based on complex algorithms. These help preventive and immediate action to block the access to illegal sites. They also can block specific pages and content of a website.
The firewall is constantly updated. It is important for who wants to make business in China to know how to prevent from being attacked.
What you cannot access?
The first question would be: what does the GFW limit exactly? It is important to make a distinction between blocked sites and sites which do not offer their content in China. Although in the end the reason is often the same – Chinese law on the internet – the reason why a page on Wikipedia is not working in China and the reason why Google Search isn’t is completely different. Some pages of Wikipedia may be inaccessible from China, for examples those which discuss topics such as the “independence” of Taiwan or Tibet. Contrarily to what some say, Google shut down actively Google Search. This was because the company decided to not follow any more the Chinese law on internet content.
According to Chinese law, any company which want to host content which is illegal should remove that content, cooperating with the government’s censorship system. For this reason, some companies decide to not offer their services in China. Others have to adapt or expect a ban.
Facebook, Quora, Twitter, Youtube are some examples of socials which are not available in China.
Of course, the GFW also works against typical illegal content censored in most countries worldwide, such as child pornography, illegal trade, and so on.
Can you climb the Great Firewall of China?
Another question some will ask is whether you can bypass the firewall. The straight answer is: yes… But there are many conditions, and costs as well.
For the regular user, it is technically possible to bypass the firewall by using a VPN service – which allows to access to the internet from an outside location while being inside China. There are legal VPNs, authorized by Chinese government: these are mostly used for business and government work. Many other, though, are not and they could stop working at any moment.
For a foreigner in China it is easier. Mobile data from a foreign sim card will use routing services, which do not receive influence by the GFW.
The situation make it so that only a small minority of people in China know how to operate a VPN and will access the internet outside the GFW. This makes it even more important to focus on Chinese social media instead, in order to take advantage of the low competition in such a relatively closed environment.
How to deal with the GFW
To avoid that your content will be reported as illegal by the GFW and become inaccessible in China, it is better to stay away from politics. If really necessary, an objective standpoint and constructive criticism won’t be attacked.
If your website mostly refers to Chinese audience, it is important to get a Chinese host to offer a better connectivity to your users. For a server in China, you need to register your ICP License (Internet Content Provider License) before actually going online.