The Chinternet vs. my VPN

This is about why I began to suspect that switching our China ISP might make our VPN work better, what we planned to do about it, and why in the end we didn’t make any changes. (And I know it’s kind of dumb to write about this. But I have my reasons.)

If you want general info on VPNs to use in China, including price and usage comparisons, I know of no better place than‘s Top 5 VPNs for China.

In the endless struggle to get the Chinternet to do what I want (i.e. give me access to Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and the news whenever I want it on my phone or laptop), I’m beginning to wonder if some Chinese ISPs are more VPN-friendly than others.

Or, more accurately: if some Chinese ISPs are less VPN-hostile than others.

Our first year in Qingdao (2012) we were on one of the three major telecom companies (China Mobile 中国移动中国联通、China Telecom 中国电信), but it was so slow and unreliable that we ditched it. After a pointless one-month stint with Great Wall Broadband 长城宽带 (never again; they’re blacklisted along with Delta Airlines), we went with a different main telecom company because Jessica had picked a phone deal from them.

Initially the speed was noticeably faster. But like all the other foreigners using various VPNs, ours was spotty at certain times of the year, and often pointless to attempt using between 4-9pm.

But here’s what’s got me wondering if not all Chinese ISPs treat VPNs the same. Via our home wireless I can fail to connect via PPTP on my phone, or I can maybe load my Instagram feed but pretty much never upload. If I switch off the wireless and connect the VPN via my data plan (different ISP), I can often upload an Instagram photo no problem over PPTP. And if I walk two minutes to my workplace, I can connect over their wireless (a third ISP) and upload photos to FB or Instagram with little problem. (We’ve since given up using PPTP, but that’s what our phones were doing at the time.)

But how could you even really know if the level of internet restriction consistently varies between ISPs, aside from performing some serious internet kungfu? The Chinternet’s degree of tolerance for VPNs isn’t static. Each province is its own unique situation. (You can ask Josh at about the internet, or lack thereof, that they’ve endured. He’s not the China VPN expert for no reason.) Restrictions also tighten or loosen according to the political calendar and sensitivity of current events. And, in your neighbourhood, you might only have one option for high-speed internet anyway.

I’m nearly illiterate when it comes to computer tech and the internet (obviously). But the VPN difference between home and work (different ISPs) looked suspicious enough that we had planned to ditch ours for theirs.

But then we discovered that in our neighbourhood, our current ISP is the only one offering 20 mb/s (which in reality is around 8-to-12), while my work’s ISP only offers 10. So until the ISP competition heats up, it’s all moot and we’re stuck with what we’ve got — aside from trying different VPNs.

Anyone have a preferred Chinese ISP?