In this post I’ll describe some experiences I had with the Internet in China, and what it means for people making websites in the west in order to reach expats, visitors, and anyone else in China. So this should be useful information even if you don’t care about China as a market at all.
This blog post may be updated, as I have more thoughts on Internet in China.
My subjective experience is that “Internet in China” is an oxymoron. How exactly is there “Internet” without Google, Facebook, and Twitter? When attaching an Android phone to a WiFi in China it even says “Wi-Fi has no Internet access”.
OK, that’s not entirely serious. Especially since I’m obviously not aware of what the Chinese language Internet looks like, not speaking or reading Chinese. Baidu looks like it largely provides the services Google does (search, maps, …), but they’re pretty much not translated. The Baidu Map app seems fine, but is almost useless if you don’t speak Chinese. The one thing it’s good for is that unlike Google Maps (if you can even get to it. see below) it actually shows you a correct location within China.
But more importantly it’s not just Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Bloomberg, New York Times, and all the other expected sites that are blocked. There’s also ALL the websites that assume that Google works from where you are. And that’s a lot.
Two out of the tree Swedish newspapers I tried did not work. DN and SvD are not blocked, but because they use Google resources they don’t actually work. They start to load, but then you only see a white blank page. Aftonbladet did work.
Picsearch (a previous employer of mine) also doesn’t load. Because I went to China I didn’t bring any access tokens or laptops, so I couldn’t dig too deep to verify for sure, but I’m pretty sure this is to blame:
The fix here should be quite simple: Just host jQuery yourself. It’s 78kB (before gzip). Also the same for external fonts, css, and images. Yes, I realise I’m saying “don’t use CDNs”, but on the other hand it seemed that Cloudflare wasn’t blocked at all, so if you’re worried about resource use and latency then host your CDNable material on a Cloudflare-fronted subdomain.
Really I should also point out that there’s no reason to leave out the
schema in this case. Just hardcode
Recommendation 1: Don’t use CDNs
The more services you rely on, the higher the likelyhood that it’s blocked. Maybe one day your friendly CDN will draw the ire of the Chinese government, or they choose to redirect to a Google-hosted copy instead, which will fail in China because Google is blocked.
If all your resources are under one FQDN, then there’s less likelihood you you being blocked. With two domains you double your risk.
Recommendation 2: Actually test your site with Google/Facebook blocked
The list of networks here is probably not complete. I gathered it
simply by resolving some domains, then doing
whois on the address to
get the whole range.
ipset create chinav4 nethash for addr in \ 188.8.131.52/20 \ 184.108.40.206/19 \ 220.127.116.11/20 \ 18.104.22.168/19 \ 22.214.171.124/18 \ 126.96.36.199/16 \ 188.8.131.52/14 \ 184.108.40.206/17 \ 220.127.116.11/16 \ 18.104.22.168/20 \ 22.214.171.124/17 \ 126.96.36.199/19 \ 188.8.131.52/19 \ ;do ipset add chinav4 "$addr" done ipset create chinav6 nethash family inet6 for addr in \ 2a00:1450::/29 \ 2a03:2880::/29 \ 2607:F8B0::/32 \ 2404:6800::/32 \ ;do ipset add chinav6 "$addr" done iptables -I INPUT -m set --match-set chinav4 src -j DROP ip6tables -I INPUT -m set --match-set chinav6 src -j DROP
Does your site still load? If it doesn’t load fully, is it still at least usable?
(I’m pretty sure the list above is incomplete, because dn.se still works after doing this, but picsearch.com does not)
Recommendation 3: When visiting China, use roaming data with your home Telco
In other words: Get a data plan that’s not ridiculously expensive. My data plan vith Vodaphone UK charges me at £3 per megabyte. Yes, per megabyte. That would fall under “ridiculously expensive”.
The easiest way to get non-censored Internet, with working Google services (including Google maps and GMail) is to use roaming data from a western country.
The reason it’s not blocked is that roaming mobile data actually tunnels back to your home country, and it’s there that you connect to The Internet. China could do deep packet inspection on this tunnel, but they don’t.
You’ll have a very high latency to everywhere, since all packets have to go across the world first, but it’ll work. You could try getting a roaming mobile data plan in Hong Kong or a nearby country, which should help.