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With Some Geeky Tweaking, China’s Web Users Can Easily Leap the Great Firewall

Steven Millward
Steven Millward
2:15 pm on Nov 29, 2012

While it’s worth remembering that most Chinese web users don’t bother to circumvent the Great Firewall internet restrictions (as folks have ample homegrown social and entertainment services), the WSJ reckons that more people than ever are actually leaping the wall to check out YouTube or Twitter thanks to some fairly simple geeky tweaking.

All it takes is for the ‘hosts’ file inside a Windows or Mac computer – or an Android phone – to be modified with a list of alternative IP addresses for a blocked site you might want to access. This can be done for free. Increasingly, more and more tech-savvy Chinese web users are helping out by maintaining updated lists of which hosts tweaks still work, and then making these lists available online. Right now, these can be found all over the web in Chinese, even on Baidu’s Wenku e-books platform, as pictured here:

Crowdsourced lists of ‘host’ file tweaks help Chinese web users access blocked sites such as YouTube. Click to enlarge.

One such individual helping his fellow netizens leap the Great Firewall is Felix Hsu, whom the WSJ talked to. He says, “Lots of netizens are eager to get to know what’s happening behind the wall, but it’s not easy for them.” Felix helps run a site (sadly, no link is given) that collates these workarounds. He explains that the free service they’re providing (which was started in October 2011) saw a massive spike in traffic recently as China’s leadership changeover was met with deliberate throttling and slowing of many Chinese internet services. For one 24-hour period at the start of this month, every single Google service was blocked in China – before some of them (obviously not the long-blocked ones like G+ or YouTube) became accessible again.

I get the feeling that most Chinese people who do this are only interested in finding fun things that most of do to pass the time on the web, such as watching kitten videos on YouTube. Nonetheless, Chinese authorities keep a close eye on overseas sites and often block those that are deemed to be carrying news that’s too controversial. That’s why the New York Times is the latest high-profile site to be blocked in the country.

[Source: WSJ China Real Time blog]


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Have Your Say
  • http://www.east-west-connect.com Tait

    Useful article, but the picture… pure awesome! Haha.

  • http://www.computersolutions.cn/blog Lawrence

    Bit doubtful as to the usefulness of this, as lying about DNS results is only one of the many blocking mechanisms in use by the GFW.

    Might work for those sites that are less blocked, but for the ones that are more actively blocked – eg content/keyword etc, this won’t.

    Results do vary by region though, so those in the 3rd tier or 4th tier cities might find this works, whereas those in 2nd and 1st tier find it doesn’t.

    YMMV…

  • transclude

    how much they pay it for you? seems much more than 50 cent.
    The GFW use different mechanisms such as DNS injection, IP block with BGP null route, L7 content filtering (like many IPS/IDS), as well as traffic control (degrade service quality to insufferable level).
    The system is controlled by a central platform in BeiJing since all the ISP must provide the interface to control their devices.