Google doesn’t work in China the same way it does in other countries because full access to the search engine is blocked. If you try to open Google.cn or Google.com while inside the mainland, you’ll be automatically redirected to the search engine’s Hong Kong servers - Google.com.hk.
The reason why search results are treated in such a way is because the redirection depends on what it is that you are searching for. Examples of search terms that have at one point or are currently considered sensitive in China, and are therefore not allowed, include Falun Gong, Dalai Lama and the Tiananmen Square incident. Search for these and other banned terms and you’ll be met with an error message thanks to China’s statewide Internet censorship system referred to as the Great Firewall of China. Countless other terms are considered less sensitive, but depending on how one is perceived by the authorities, the links may or may not work even if they show up in the search results.
At one time, more than one-third of the online search market in China was taken up by Google.cn. However, the Chinese government in 2009 made a direct request to Google asking them to automatically sensor their own content in terms of search results and links. Google did not comply. Shortly afterward, Google closed shop in China’s mainland following an alleged state-sponsored attack on Google’s servers.
The search engine completely shut down operations in the mainland and redirected all traffic to Google.com.hk, its search portal in Hong Kong. The search engine’s share of the market in China’s mainland has since dropped to less than 3%.
Unblocking Google in China
To access Google in China, or any other place where it is blocked, you need a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts all your inbound and outbound traffic and tunnels it through an intermediary server in a remote location of your choice. Obviously, in this case, all you need to is use any server that is outside China’s mainland.
However, it is important to note that the level of quality offered by VPN services varies. The authorities in China are well aware that people inside the country use VPNs to access Google. In order to stop them from doing so, they have developed powerful systems to stop them from doing so. In this article, we look at some of the most effective VPNs that work in China.
At the top of our list of recommendations is ExpressVPN for a number of reasons, including its ease of use and compatibility across all major devices. Expats in China are particularly fond of this VPN provider because of its reliability and 24/7 live chat support.
Once you subscribe to the VPN of your choice, download the app or client and install the software on your device. You can usually reduce the likelihood of latency by choosing a server that is as close as possible to your location at the time of use. Also, if you’re a native English speaker, it’s a good idea to choose a server that is nearby to avoid receiving results in a foreign language. Once you identify a suitable server, click ‘Connect’ and Google away.
The best VPNs for unblocking Google in China
As is the case with other functions of a VPN, not all VPNs are the same when it comes to unblocking Google in China. They vary in terms of speed and reliability. The Great Firewall of China makes it impossible to access, not only Google, but also other popular online services such as streaming services (Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and so on). The Great Firewall of China also blocks western news websites and online dating websites, which do not comply with the government laws of China.
It’s advisable to subscribe to your preferred VPN from the list provided here before you arrive in China because, even though the VPNs themselves work there, the websites are blocked. The main criteria we took into account when determining the best VPN for unblocking Google include speed, reliability, the range of servers, and the VPN’s customer support.
Below is our list of recommended VPNs for unblocking Google in China.
This is the most effective VPN to use in China. Even though it’s quite pricey, it’s worth the investment because it offers many excellent features. The provider has a large server network, speedy and stable connections, allows up to three simultaneous connections, and has a round-the-clock live chat support service.
The VPN’s clients are highly intuitive and work well on all major device platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS. ExpressVPN can be manually configured onto devices such as Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick among other devices that don’t natively support VPN. You can also use this service to download torrents, and if you are planning to be in China for less than 30 days, you can also use their money-back service for this period.
NordVPN is like the more affordable version of the above providers, offering all the most important features at budget-friendly subscription packages, each of which allows you to connect up to six devices simultaneously. In addition to giving you access to Google, this provider also unblocks popular streaming services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix.
Unlike many other VPN providers on the market, VyprVPN is among the few that actually owns and runs all of its servers worldwide. It is for this reason that it is known for its lightning speeds and impressive uptime. For an added charge, you get the provider’s proprietary ‘Chameleon protocol’ which is highly effective in bypassing the Great Firewall because, in addition to simply masking your traffic. This VPN is also able to mask metadata, which makes it difficult for firewalls to detect that you are not in China.
Like ExpressVPN, VyprVPN is comparatively expensive but the features that you can avail yourself or are worth the premium price tag. It has a vast global server network, offers prompt and helpful live chat customer support, and offers a wide variety of security protocols include OpenVPN. It has apps for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS.
Based in Hungary, Buffered has clients for MacOS and Windows that the provider claims can circumvent the Great Firewall. It is a good service to share with other people who are close to you because it allows for up to six simultaneous connections. It performed well in our tests for speed and reliability so you can usually find a strong connection. The only downside of Buffered is that it does not offer mobile clients.
Many travelers and expats in China have for a long time preferred this provider. In the US alone, StrongVPN has more than a dozen server locations, even though it doesn’t have a global server network as large as the ones of the other providers on this list. Its uptime and speeds are reliable and the company is small enough for censorship authorities to disregard this activity as not important.
A final word from VPN Base
We understand the temptation to use free VPN services considering how flooded the market is with them. However, we strongly recommend against using them for a number of reasons. First, free VPNs—even the free versions from well-established providers—tend to be extremely limited in the service they offer. Limitations also include data and bandwidth that has been used on a monthly basis. Second, since they need to make money somehow, there’s a high risk that they may track your online activities and sell them to third parties, which beats the point of using a VPN.