VPNs, Website Blocks & ‘Climbing the Wall’

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Oh you’re ‘climbing the wall’ – fan qiang – the Chinese journalist commented. I was indeed, I was using a VPN – Virtual Private Network – to ‘climb over the Great Firewall of China.’

China is the most notorious of the countries in the world which spend a great deal of time and energy preventing their citizens from seeing things they shouldn’t on the internet. In China that includes many social media sites and Google (both for Google searching and Google Maps). Assorted news sites are blocked including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and The New York Times. Well the NYT has revealed how extraordinarily wealthy certain important members of the Chinese government have become and we certainly don’t want the average Chinese citizen discovering that, do we? Ditto for The Economist which I like to read every week and which had just published an interesting article about the OBOR – One Belt One Road – project. I’d been telling the Chinese journalist about this article, the project to revitalise the old Silk Road trading routes has been described as a Chinese Marshall Plan, but bigger. It’s expected to run into untold billions of any currency you care to name.

▲ My wall climbing exploits in China were handled by ExpressVPN, which cost me US$99.95 for a one year subscription and generally worked very well. I could work out where I was going with Google Maps, I could keep up with Mr Trump’s latest twitter explosions and mad exploits and I could download The Economist every Friday morning.

At almost every hotel we stayed at in China – and indeed most of the way along our Silk Road trip – Wi-Fi Internet connections were provided and almost always it was free. It wasn’t always that fast which meant you were often uncertain whether your problems were simply due to poor connections and speed or because you’d come up against the Great Firewall.

In Iran, however, where the government is also very keen on blocking websites this was what sometimes appeared on my screen. Message: you ain’t going there. More recently Turkey has also ramped up its internet blocking, they’ve even blocked Wikipedia so once again my VPN came in useful if I wanted to research something about Turkey’s wonderful Greek or Roman historic sites. I’m even using that VPN in London, Google want me to agree to something before I can use Google in England, so I don’t, the VPN connection means I could well be in the USA or somewhere else far away.