Aug 06, 2015 By August Hatch , eChinacities.com

If you’re not from China but you live in China, chances are you use a VPN to access a lot of the web. But sometimes VPNs go down, or your subscription ends, or it’s just too slow. During those tough times, using the internet as the Chinese do can feel restricting, especially when you want to access foreign websites. Luckily, we’ve got a few ways to make your daily web browsing a bit smoother on Macs and PCs.

1) Block the Twitter Platform

The page you’re visiting might not be blocked by China’s Great Firewall, but it might still contain elements that are. A site might contain sharing buttons for Facebook and Twitter or a line of code to connect to Google Analytics. In some cases, your browser gets hung up trying to load these blocked elements and will make several attempts before giving up, slowing the load time for pages.

The most common culprit I’ve found is the Twitter platform, which is used to send and receive data from Twitter buttons, feeds, and other elements to and from the page. To prevent the annoying extra wait, you can use a free ad blocking extension (I prefer Adblock Plus) to stop the Twitter platform from ever attempting to load in the first place. See this tutorial for Chrome and Firefox here.

Keep in mind that this modification prevents you from using any of those Twitter elements, so you’ll have to pause your ad blocker if you actually want to use those features. The same method can be applied to any element you don’t want loaded, but Twitter seems to be the biggest perpetrator in China.

2) Load HTTPS Pages

Many websites let users access two nearly identical versions of most of the pages, HTTP and HTTPS. The Great Firewall often blocks the former, but rarely the latter. Unless you’re on a high-profile site like Facebook or Youtube, it might be worth a shot to add the extra ‘S’ to the URL. Websites where you often receive “101 connection reset” errors can benefit from this.

Apple once used this method to unblock the App Store for users in China. You can use Chrome and Firefox plug-ins to automatically revert to the HTTPS standard by default, such as HTTPS Everywhere.

Besides unblocking a few websites, using HTTPS also has other benefits. The ‘S’ stands for “Secure,” meaning it makes your browsing safer and more private.

3) Set SOCKS Proxy Rules for Specific Websites

This one is a bit more technical, but you could potentially use it to forego a VPN altogether and just surf on the many free proxies that the web has to offer. First, you need to install a SOCKS proxy plug-in such as FoxyProxy for Firefox or Proxy SwitchySharp For Chrome. Then you can set certain pages to automatically load through the proxy and view the rest without hassling with a VPN.

This is especially useful if you’re switching between Chinese and overseas websites. Let’s say you want to post a video from Youku onto Facebook.  If you’re using a VPN or proxy, Facebook will load quickly, but Youku will lag behind. If you’re not using a VPN or proxy, you can’t load Facebook at all. With these plugins, you don’t have to worry about switching in between the two, as it all happens automatically in your browser.

A quick Google search for “free proxy server” will bring up a plethora of results like this one, but keep in mind they aren’t always secure. Don’t enter personal, payment, or password data through a shared proxy. Another caveat is that some sites don’t function well through proxies, such as Youtube.

4) Flush Your Cache and Start Using Open DNS or Google DNS

The Domain Name System, or DNS, is the mechanism that allows you to type eChinacities.com instead of the actual IP address, which is 123.57.75.210. Words are typically easier to remember than numbers for English speakers, and the DNS acts as a phone book matching up domain names with those numbers.

Through malfunctions and malice, the entries for some websites can be corrupted. This is one of the many known tactics used by Chinese authorities to block some websites.

Sometimes, however, those authorities actually unblock websites. But you might still have the corrupted entry saved onto your computer. To fix this, open a command prompt and type “ipconfig /flushdns” without the quotation marks. This cleans out all the old entries and new ones are added as you revisit sites.

You won’t be able to completely avoid further DNS corruption so long as you live in China, but you can improve results by switching to Open DNS. There’s a slew of other reasons you should already be doing this, but you can research that for yourself. Find a tutorial for how to easily switch over here.

Once upon a time, using these services could unblock pages like Facebook. That method is now defunct, but a few blocked websites might still be made accessible.

5) Disable Network Prediction

This advice is last on the list because it will actually make loading many pages slightly slower. Your browser usually memorizes the path it takes when sending a page request from your computer to a web server. If you’re using VPNs and proxies to access those web pages, that path can change, but your browser will still try to use the original path. This can prevent some pages from loading at all.

To prevent this in Chrome, go to Settings, click to show advanced settings at the bottom, and uncheck “Predict network actions to improve page load performance.”

In Firefox, type “about: config” in the URL bar without the quotations. In the preference name field, type network.dns.disablePrefetch. Toggle the value to True.

Note that all of the above tips can improve your browsing experience in China, but they cannot replace the function of a VPN. Got more tips? Let us know in the comments!

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SinoBytes

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Keywords: Browsing in China Web Browsing without a VPN

10 Comments Add your comment

1

Guest388182
comment|63740|43131

futile

Aug 06, 2015 15:09 Report Abuse

2

kuntmans
comment|63742|307009

Great tips. So many vpns are unreliable and pose security risks.

Aug 06, 2015 16:51 Report Abuse

3

nzteacher80
comment|63746|270608

Says the wumao.

Aug 06, 2015 18:41 Report Abuse

4

carlstar
comment|63783|5289

and don't call him kunt either. by shorting the name you can be blocked.

Aug 07, 2015 19:17 Report Abuse

5

Quinn68
comment|63786|28680

Great tips (though I definitely wouldn't mess around with the last one). I use a paid double encrypted VPN in conjunction with several FF security extensions, including HTTPS Everywhere and Adblock Plus. 98% of the time I can browse without any issues. A colleague of mine pays $200.00 a year for third party security software. It's hard to put a price on peace of mind.

Aug 07, 2015 20:31 Report Abuse

6

Guest626460
comment|63806|69606

Great tips. Best article I've read on echinacities so far. Both useful and also learned a lot of new things about computers and internet.

Aug 08, 2015 13:05 Report Abuse

7

Guest538776
comment|63827|59864

Or just go buy the VPN and save the hassle, they only cost $5-7 a month!

Aug 10, 2015 05:14 Report Abuse

8

jamesvang86
comment|64047|1596490

Great article but i still believe that VPN is much better than this because it provide you complete Internet Freedom.

Aug 18, 2015 14:19 Report Abuse

9

Guest14394074
comment|64892|1599341

If anybody wants to know, there is a simple trick how to watch youtube videos without vpn. 1. Put the terms "youtube" plus whatever title of the video you want to watch into the yahoo search engine. 2. copy the youtube's video link from the search results 3. paste it into clipconverter . cc 4. download ;)

Sep 20, 2015 05:46 Report Abuse

10

Sponge_Bob
comment|72126|1632030

Latern app, free VPN.

Jul 11, 2016 13:58 Report Abuse