VPNs are useful for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that they help you hop over China’s Great Firewall and evade the country’s web censorship. But most Chinese net users don’t have VPNs, in part because they tend to be a little pricey — between $50 and $100 for a year of service. Of course, there are other reasons Chinese net users don’t typically have VPNs, but the price problem could be a thing of the past, as Japan’s University of Tsukuba has just launched a project called VPN Gate that provides users with high-quality VPN connections for free. No fees, no ads, and no registration required.
VPN Gate is actually an experiment in p2p VPN connections, as the connections listed on its site are provided and operated by volunteers around the world. The site launched on March 8, but as of this writing it has more than 80 available connections to choose from and has already attracted more than 45,000 users. Most of its current connection offerings, so it should be an especially good option for China-based users looking to connect to a VPN without having to filter all their traffic through a US server halfway across the world.
Of course, hooking up a VPN connection manually can be a little tricky. But most VPN Gate connections come with several connection guides and a downloadable OpenVPN config file that should add the connection to OpenVPN (a free VPN client) automatically. It’s still not something your grandmother is likely to be able to do on her own without a little help, but it’s about as easy as setting up a VPN gets. And while many of the servers are password protected, they all share the same username and password: vpn.
In an email, a representative of the VPN Gate project told me that the goal of the project is to expand the knowledge of globally-distributed public VPN servers. They didn’t mention China specifically, but it’s clear they are thinking about Chinese users because there is already a Simplified Chinese version of the website. Simplified Chinese is used almost exclusively in mainland China where the Great Firewall censors the web; the freer Hong Kong and Taiwan both use traditional characters.