My Week In China – Behind The Great Firewall (Part 1)

I’ve been in and out the PRC for the last couple of years. My use of the internet has now become like your average non-PRC resident. I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Dropbox, and a host of Google services without thinking twice – and certainly with no need for a VPN.

The Challenge: Getting Though With No VPN

I spent a few days in Shanghai combining business with pleasure – a few meetings, plus a friend was working at the Chinese Grand Prix and had never visited the PRC, so I opted to show him around a bit.

For the first time, digitally, I felt like a regular foreigner in China (who  has a need for blocked services).
Here’s the story of how it went inside the “great” firewall of China.

As you probably know, you can jump the Chinese firewall. I was only going to be here for less than a week, I thought I’d just cope without a VPN. As a security blanket, I decided to open an outlook e-mail account which is not blocked in China. Interestingly, my phone still received emails on my Gmail account, but couldn’t send them. For the record, inside China I did receive incoming notifications, you just can’t connect to blocked servers from inside the PRC.

Incidentally, my iPhone Gmail account worked fine the whole time while using cloudmagic as the app on my phone (which I wholeheartedly recommend as the most useful iPhone e-mail app I’ve tried so far.)

So at the first hurdle, it seems that life behind the firewall wasn’t as depriving as I had expected.

How Do You Solve The Problem?

So, usually I would be running my life using a selection of apps, such as Facebook, Gmail, WhatsApp, Paypal, Skype, Uber and Google maps, oh and Slack (a personal favourite).

So how do I cope? Well, on arrival in China you can delete all these apps, and replace them with one: WeChat

As with many things in modern China, the original template for WeChat was “borrowed” from the Japanese software called Line. However, since taking a grip in China, WeChat has become another animal completely. It now serves most Chinese urban dwellers on a daily basis with over 650million penetration inside the PRC.

People in China don’t exchange e-mails or phone numbers anymore. They ask for a WeChat ID.

In the rest of the world, Twitter is huge ( okay, and Instagram in 2016). China’s version of Twitter “WEIBO” (pronounced “way-bore”) ran into trouble.

As a broadcast platform, WEIBO has suffered from Chinese censorship as the commenting on daily news events isn’t always to the government’s liking. This means posts get deleted or accounts disappear – not good for growth rates!

WeChat doesn’t publicly broadcast. It’s most shared element is it’s “moments” feature, which is akin to Facebook’s wall – visible only by contacts/friends. This has allowed it to rocket to the becoming the most mainstream app in China today.

WeChat Solutions In Action

So I arranged to meet up with a friend for dinner. I’m not so familiar with Shanghai so was hoping that she would choose somewhere easy to find. Well, it turns out that actually that doesn’t matter anymore. WeChat has a map section built-in. You can choose a location (as a pin drop) and send it to a friend. No need to go outside the app and fumble around with Google maps links or screenshots. In addition, if you end up getting confused on arrival, WeChat will allow a live update of your friend’s position. This is great when you are trying to find someone inside a mall for example where maps become limited to only geographical landmarks. It’s also really cool to be able to see where someone is at any given moment.

So within only 24 hours WeChat had trumped all competitors with it’s additional features and ease-of-use. I was totally impressed & so was my friend, the first time China visitor. How wrong I was to assume that life in China would automatically be harder without my regular digital suite- great job WeChat!

More Solutions On Getting Around China

Pop back next month for the next instalment.

Have anything you’d like us to cover on the blog relating to websites, WeChat or anything digital in the PRC? If you liked the article take 30 seconds to leave a comment. Maybe we missed something

Share this postShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get a free project quote

+86 10 6503 0620

Sign up to our newsletter!

Sign up to our regular newsletter with our latest blogs posts and news!

  • Eggplant Digital helped us focus on exactly what we wanted the website to do and how we wanted people to interact with it. Then they built a site that exceeded all our expectations. They met every deadline, even when we missed a few ourselves. These guys are the best in the region without a doubt. They will be my first call next time around and the last call.

  • Since the site went live, a year ago, we’ve seen a significant rise in enquiries for work through the website. This has been a fantastic boost for the growth of our business. Thanks to the Eggplant team!

    Andrew Clark, Group Creative Director/DP

  • Woo hoo! Looks awesome. I am very pleased to say the least. Everyone at Eggplant, great job and thanks for the hard work.

    John Romankiewicz

  • Eggplant have been fantastic – not only do we have a great website for a reasonable price, but their technology and marketing tools for our company have exceeded my expectations.

    Mark Varley CEO

  • From their input on the initial design to their meticulous care in continuing to tweak the websites until they were exactly what we needed, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the job they did. Both their design work and back-end programming have had a profound impact on our work in China.

    Gabriel Suk - Founder

  • The site looks great and will be the envy of our industry. Thanks for being so patient with us. We can proudly say we have created the best website for a film company in China.

    David Tom

  • From the concept phase through to deployment I have been very impressed by the quality of the service delivered by Eggplant and the end result speaks for itself.Their patience in dealing with my constant queries and changes was also admirable!

    Colin Saunders - Sales and Business Development Manager

  • Thank you for all your help in creating our website, we had a great experience and we are really happy with the end result! In just a few weeks since we went live, we have already had a lot of praise from our customers about the new website! 

    Alex Wolfgram