OK, you have translated your website into Chinese. Now you want to make all that exciting content available to more than 1,500 million people (out of which, incidentally, 400 million do not speak Chinese, nor they are profficient at it). But are you just going to add Chinese as another language on your website? You probably have heard some sites cannot be accessed from China, that payment methods are different. Foreign sites load pretty slowly – you need to avoid the great firewall of China.
China has been the second largest economy in the world for some time now, surpassing Japan. It will not take long for the size of the Chinese economy to surpass the US’ GDP – estimations say that it can happen by 2020. Many US and Western companies have been trading with China in several ways for decades. Also, Alibaba’s was valued as a Nasdaq stock on an equal footing as Facebook and Twitter. Alipay is the only reliable means of accepting payments in China (there is no Paypal), which gives it even more prominence among websites trading internationally and with problems to avoid the great firewall of China in terms of extracting payments from purchases made by Chinese shoppers. Most Fortune 500 companies have branches, factories or representative offices in China.
Many American companies, either online business or “traditional economy”, use the internet to find new niches and in their day-to-day operations. I have been dealing with Chinese companies, buying and selling since the late 90’s in the last century, days when even email was not stable and access to the Internet plainly illegal sometimes. Running a website, email and data transfer might be a no-brainer for US business, and foreign business in general, but when you face the Great Firewall of China, speed, connection and availability become a real issue. The Great Firewall Program is a program put in place by the Chinese government to monitor and filter Internet content and some sites (particularly those sites which prey Big Data and to which we so blindly hand over much of our lives and content like Google, Twitter or Facebook). In essence, the Chinese governement abhorred foreign companies collecting data and behavior of Chinese citizens or providing information to its citizens that contravened the official version or dealt with sensitive facts. This may sound like thought control to Westerners, but let us remember that Japanese text books often ignore or downplay some historical facts in which Japan was involved in WW2.
Other countries like Russia have Yandex as a local, specialist search engine and other social media (popular in Turkey, too), which more or less follows the patterns of the Great Firewall of China like VK, or Odnokasniki, social sites that specialize in friend communities for the countries that shared a common past as part of the USSR (you can access them in English, too). China has Weibo, which merges all the features of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other social media into a single hub. The English version of Weibo is not prominent at all, and registration, just like for its main search engine Baidu, requires a Chinese phone number. You can try to register in Chinese with foreign telephone numbers, but will not be easy.
All international Internet connections from and to China cannot avoid the great firewall of China and must pass through it.
The best known effect of the Great Firewall is the blocking of various, well known foreign websites in China. If a website is deemed to breach Chinese law, the government is able to prevent access from any internet connection in PRC. Some keen Internet surfers in China know how to avoid the Great Firewall of China via proxy or by Using virtual private networks (VPNs), but the majority of the population will not be bothered to go through the hustle of purchasing a VPN or configuring it.
Another less known effect is that due to filters in place by the Great Firewall of China, foreign websites are perceived as “slower” and take longer to access from China. If you have translated your website into Simplified Chinese (for mainland China) or Traditional Chinese (for the Southern parts of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), it is likely the Chinese section of your website will go unnoticed. Plus, if you happen to host your website in Europe or the East Coast in the US, the simple rule applies: the farther the foreign server, the slower the access is from China. However, websites hosted in the West Coast of the US, Korea, Japan, Singapore etc. will load comparatively faster.
Therefore, we recommend you consider hosting in or around China if you are targeting the Chinese public. If you run a general business website, without a lot of media content, hosting near the country will suffice to reach Chinese users, even if not as optimal as hosting locally. There are two hosting companies I can recommend from experience. One is SinoHosting (www.sinohosting.net) which is focused on hosting foreign companies targeting China. It offers a good array of servers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea which are fast to access from various regions within China. The website explains that companies targeting the Southern province of Guandong should host in Hong Kong, while those targeting Northern parts like Beijing or the Northern China should host in Korea, etc.). The second hosting company I recommend is Kowloon Hosting.
Websites blocked by the Great firewall of China are usually adult-related or political websites. The BBC has been blocked a few times. If you are not dealing with this type of areas, a normal company nad business will never be deemed as suspicious or call the attention enough to be blocked. However, you may be unlucky and share a server or IP address with a site that happened to be blocked. You would run out of luck in this case, and it would take you years to recover from such a blow as decisions are not taken fast in China – much less overrulings.
For companies that have a legal presence in China it makes sense to go through the hassle to apply for the ICP license which is required to host your website in China. Others do not have the option to host in China due to the impossibility for them to apply for the ICP license, and therefore should host at one of the locations mentioned above.