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Which websites and online services are banned in China?

banned websites in China
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

China undoubtedly has one of the world’s most restricted internet ecosystems, and The Great Firewall of China is often used to describe the Chinese government’s efforts to deny access to many of the world’s most popular websites.

This article details which websites and services are banned in China, and how you can use VPN technology to circumvent the Great Chinese Firewall. This is essential if you plan on traveling or working in China, but still want to be able to access your favorite websites.  

Why does China ban access to so many websites?

The Chinese government believes in the notion of cyber sovereignty. This is the idea that all countries should control how the internet operates in their country and the different types of content that its people can access. 

There are several reasons why the Chinese leadership has developed such a restrictive attitude towards the internet. These include a desire to suppress information about controversial historical events and to limit the capacity of citizens to form social movements and organize collective action. 

Fortunately, the Chinese authorities appear usually to be willing to turn a blind eye to tourists or expats attempting to circumvent internet restrictions.

Which sites are banned in China?

Working remotely in China is difficult without a VPN, as productivity apps such as Slack, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox are all forbidden. The entire Google suite, including Gmail and Google Drive, is also unavailable. 

Banned social networks include Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Vimeo, Spotify, Snapchat, and Tumblr. This can make keeping in touch with friends and family a pain. 

Unfortunately, most Western-based news websites are also off-limits. These include the New York Times, CNN, Reuters, and the Financial Times.

At the time of writing, the following sites and services were unavailable in China:

  • BBC
  • CNN
  • Facebook (and Messenger)
  • Gmail
  • Google Apps (e.g. Calendar, Docs, Hangouts, Maps, etc)
  • Hootsuite
  • Instagram
  • OneDrive
  • New York Times
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
  • Reuters
  • Slack
  • Snapchat
  • Spotify
  • Twitch
  • Twitter
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Wikipedia
  • WhatsApp
  • YouTube

It’s important to remember that the list of websites and services banned in China is continuously changing. So if you want the latest information, we recommend checking out the frequently updated lists - such as on the Travel China Cheaper website.

How can VPN technology help circumvent internet censorship?

A virtual private network can help you circumvent China’s internet censorship by spoofing an internet service provider into thinking you are located outside of China. 

Although using a VPN in China is technically illegal, the prosecution of tourists or businesspeople using VPNs is almost unheard of.

However, there are a few important considerations. Firstly, it is essential to download a VPN before you get to China, as most VPN websites are, unsurprisingly, banned in the country. Secondly, we recommend using a tried-and-tested VPN such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN. These providers have consistently proved that they can beat China’s internet firewall. While using a free VPN is likely to lead to frustration, and we don’t recommend it.  

Which websites and online services are banned in China?

Many Western websites and digital services are banned in China. Bypassing China’s restrictions requires internet users to use a VPN and will enable you to access websites and services in China that would otherwise be unavailable. 

To help you choose the right provider, we have listed the best VPNs for China in our dedicated guide.  It will help you choose a reliable provider so that you can browse Facebook or YouTube to your heart’s content.  

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