Chinese Internet Connections Unreliable in Run-Up to Party Congress

C. Custer
11:13 am on Nov 7, 2012

Beijing takes the 18th Party Congress (the once-a-decade leadership transition) pretty seriously. And since this year it’s worried about everything from ping pong balls to boats, it’s probably no surprise that the government is taking the internet pretty seriously too. Last week, I wrote a story about what appeared to be new interference with the internet, and we were surprised by how many readers commented that they were experiencing internet problems, too. So we dug a little deeper using Google and Weibo surveys (you can still submit your own response if you haven’t; we’d love to keep adding to this data set) and discovered that among our first 40+ respondents, virtually everyone is having problems:

(Users in China who can’t see that graph can click here to view a non-interactive image version)

Users could select as many issues as they were experiencing, so the graph above indicates the total number of times each problem was reported. And we specifically asked users what has changed about their internet recently, so although (for example) overseas sites can be slow all year round, our user responses here indicate that they are slower than usual, slow enough that users noticed a change.

It’s clear that most people aren’t experiencing a total internet blackout, but VPNs not working, and Google services not working all seem to be fairly common issues. Moreover, it seems that overseas sites loading more slowly than usual is a nearly universal issue, and many users also reported frequent disconnections when attempting to connect to overseas sites. Users in Beijing and Shanghai seemed to be most affected, with several users outside those two cities reporting no issues.

Now, obviously this is a highly unscientific poll with a small sample size and a self-selecting audience. But it seems pretty clear at this point that Beijing is indeed messing with the internet, with an apparent special emphasis on making overseas sites and blocked sited difficult to access. That’s probably not a surprise, especially given the recent reports in the Western press about the immense personal wealth of several of China’s top leaders. But it looks like readers in Beijing and Shanghai are in for a rough November. Hopefully, things will return to ‘normal’ once the leadership transition is complete.

  • Kee

    Yea. Overseas sites slow, very slow even with VPN. Frustrating. End this already

  • jane

    Not sure why but google service is also slow in china. got worst this time round. vpn all not working too.

  • Evan

    Times have been hard the last week with all that is going down here in China. I am using VPNinja, and it is working for me. They are at

  • Chris

    Seeing it out in Yunnan, too. Not just a Beijing thing.

  • Maxim

    And as of this morning even LinkedIn will not load at all.. No gmail, no LinkedIn and no VPN, I might as well just take a holiday :)

  • XiaoXiong

    I live in Chongqing and have noticed that, even with a VPN, overseas sites have been loading very slowly since the beginning of November. We’ve suspected DNS poisoning has been used in some cases, and changing our DNS settings has helped a little.

  • Joel

    Have had flawless service with our VPN… until today. Now I can’t connect to any of their many servers (and I’m scheduled to publish a review of their service today, too). We’re in Qingdao.

  • Joel

    Here’s a weird detail that might shed light on how they’re blocking the VPNs: we have SunVPN on two laptops and two iPhones. As of yesterday we can’t use the VPN on our laptops, but we still can on our phones. Anyone got any ideas/advice about what that means and what we can do about it? (We are not real technologically literate.) Thanks!

  • StreamVia

    China blocked specific well known ports, I assume you are using OpenVPN on your computers and if using a standard port then this was blocked. L2TP/IPSec however, that you could use on a phone, has not been blocked at least not totally that we have seen. We – StreamVia – have a number of alternative VPN ports for OpenVPN thus our users just changed to use another port, meaning they suffered no outage.

    All traffic to and from the country has been rate limited, it does seem to vary region by region, this is why over seas sites are slow even with a VPN – because the VPN encrypted tunnel itself is being rate limited.

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