China Begins Blocking Instant Messaging Services

Christopher Sewerd Policy

China has long been regarded as the epicentre of censorship when it comes to internet and online activity. Continuing long standing restrictions on press freedoms and freedoms of speech, China has brought the online world in line with their standards for the offline world.

The great firewall of China or Golden Shield Project as it is officially known came in to effect in 2003 in a period of time when internet access was gaining in momentum around the world with many countries coming online in huge droves. It is in no doubt that the timing of the introduction of the Chinese firewall was well equipt to restrict the freedoms of online use for Chinese residents and those that frequently visit China for personal or business purposes.

Using a VPN in China has always been an essential tool for both travellers and citizens. With China becoming the biggest nation for trading goods, overtaking the US in 2012 the increase in business travellers and purposes to conduct communications with China is ever increasing and set likely to continue to grow.

Communications have changed with China

In the period of time that the great firewall of China has been in operation the way in which the world communicates has changed beyond recognition. While email was heralded as the future of communication with its obvious benefits over snail mail and other forms of older communication such as telegrams, instant messaging services have again altered the landscape in the way Chinese users communicate.

Business is now a global industry and as such small to medium enterprises as well as large corporations have access to both the Chinese market and the Chinese workforce. Communication is key in daily business opportunities with China and as such instant messaging services are now being increasingly used to communicate in a more rapid manner than ever before. Businesses in North America and Europe can now communicate on an instant basis with Chinese factories and confirm orders, alter specifications and make any on the fly communication without delay thanks to instant messaging services.

China instant message with non-domestic users

Facebook offers an excellent way for both personal and business users to keep connected, with it’s instant messaging feature users can take part in discussions quickly and easily. In 2009 after rioting took place in the Chinese city of Ürümqi, Facebook was swiftly blocked after it emerged that independence activists had used the network to form part of their communication system resulting in communication from Chinese users via Facebook coming to a sudden halt.

While other popular western instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp are reportedly not blocked in China and would make ideal lines of quick communications with those outside China the popularity of non-Chinese or at least non-Asian mobile messaging apps inside China is extremely limited. Just as home grown search provider Baidu dwarfs Google’s use in China such is the case with instant messaging apps.

Communication between Chinese citizens and South Korean citizens was massively popular with regionally popular apps such as KakaoTalk and Line being in widespread use. With recent crackdowns on instant messaging systems in China as recent as August 2014 both apps have now been blocked. Little surprise given that both are owned by South Korean businesses limiting the grip over which the Chinese government could impose it’s strict restrictions.

Instant Messaging restricted within China

It would appear that Chinese internet censorship is forever playing a cat and mouse game cleverly penning users in to specific tools in which such restrictions can be more easily enforced.

When blogging was heavily hit in 2013 by strict restrictions which included stories of imprisonment and even death sentences for those who speak out against the Chinese regime many users turned to quicker forms of communications such as instant messaging which allowed information to be passed quicker and in a less centralised manner, no longer was removing a blog page enough to stop the spread of information.

However now the uptake of instant messaging services such as the ever popular WeChat with it’s reported 800 million users has taken a strong footing within China the government has seized the opportunity to engage it’s censorship wagon once again.

On August 7th 2014 the Chinese government introduced new regulations which has a variety of implications for Chinese instant messaging users that include users registering with their real names amongst others. With foreign IM systems being blocked in China it leaves Chinese users lessening choice via normal avenues to access communication systems such as instant messaging.

While messaging services such as those provided by Weibo and QQ are allowed within China they are restricted by the fact they are heavily monitored by the Chinese government which only reduces the ability to speak freely via such systems.

Bypass Chinese net & IM restrictions

Looking for a VPN service for China has long been the past time of those about to travel to China and those who already reside within the country. A Virtual Private Network for use in China will encrypt your communications be it instant messaging or other online services. Not only this but also allow access to other websites which are usually blocked by the great firewall including sites such as Facebook, Twitter and many more.

While China has attempted to crack down on VPN use it has become imperative to use a service provided by a company with a slightly smaller user base thus flying under the radar of the Chinese authorities and when combined with access via the SSL port increases the opportunity to have free flowing and unrestricted instant messaging use in China.

Image courtesy of Chaiwat at