If you’re thinking about moving to China to travel, work, or live, then you’ll probably be aware of the “Great Chinese Firewall”. In short, the firewall prevents people in China from accessing foreign social media apps and websites.
Initially, this restriction prevents a lot of people from moving to China. The thought of being away from family and friends without being able to connect seems too much of an obstacle. But what if I told you that you don’t need to lose contact, and you can keep relationships from abroad?
This post will guide you through the Chinese social media scene, and help you to stay connected while teaching in China.
CLIMBING OVER THE FIREWALL
The Chinese Firewall like the Great Wall is notoriously big. Many apps and foreign websites are blocked on both your mobile device and your laptop or desktop.
Despite this, there is one way to get around or “over” the Firewall. The best way to do this is to use a VPN. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that basically allows you to share someone else’s network from another location so that you can appear as if you are in another location. Although your physical location will be in China, you will appear to be in another country, allowing you to bypass the firewall.
Many English teachers in China and expats have VPNs. You can get them for free, or you can pay for a subscription. In recent years the government have been cracking down on VPN’s, and they are illegal in many locations. That being said, if you download one before you get to China, you can still get access. We recommend that you research VPN’s before you arrive, and look into Chinese laws. Most expats choose to use a VPN, but do so at their own risk.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA AND BLOCKED SITES
As well Facebook being blocked, you won’t be able to get access to Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Medium or YouTube. Again, a VPN will allow you to get access, but you’ll soon find that there are plenty of Chinese alternatives that will fill the void.
CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA
Since foreign social media channels were blocked in China, many imitations became very popular.
Weibo (China’s twitter) is one of the worlds most used social networks and is extremely popular in China. Bill Gates and the late Stephen Hawking have accounts as well as other internationally recognized celebrities. Despite being mostly in Chinese, you can find English speaking accounts and stay up to date with news.
If you’re wondering if China has a YouTube copy, then it does! YouKu is an extremely popular video hosting site/app that offers a social element just like YouTube. On YouKu, you will be able to search through millions of user-submitted videos, but more interestingly, hundreds of free TV shows. Popular US series such as the Big Bang Theory, Friends, Modern Family and many more shows can be found here. The shows are free to watch, and you can upgrade to see the newer content. The better news is you can also watch movies!
The single most important app in your life in China would be WeChat. Explaining this app is quite difficult as it has taken a life of its own in recent years.
Originally, WeChat was just a messaging platform similar to WhatsApp. Users could message friends and family, send pictures and hold video calls. But as the app evolved, you could even share “moments” which is similar to Facebooks news feed, and read articles and posts.
Today, WeChat is integral to everyone’s life in China. You can use the app to send money to friends, pay bills, purchase goods, pay your phone bill, order food, buy movie tickets and order a taxi. Almost everyone in China uses this app. You’ll find that this is what you use to call people, send messages and start group chats to organize events.
We highly recommend that you download this app and get your friends and family to the same. They can then easily follow your journey in China, and give you a call without the need for a VPN or even spend money on expensive phone calls!
All in all, social media in China is very different to the rest of the world. If you really need to connect to Facebook and other western Social media, you can. But you will soon find that the Chinese social networks will fit into your life quite easily. Most expats and English teachers enjoy being away from the old social networks, and often find that having less access, isn’t such a bad thing!