Netflix and China (Not to be confused with Netflix and Chill)

 

From New York to Beijing – Journal Entry #19 – 

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Netflix and Chill Explained

-There are only three countries in the world where Netflix is not available. Syria, North Korea, and yes, you guessed it, China. So how do we watch U.S. movies and TV here? Let me count the ways. There are a few multilayered tricks and steps needed in order to view Western shows. And, even with those tricks up our sleeves, sometimes, we are out of luck. Maybe it is all the talk of chillin’ that goes with Netflix that keeps it banned?

Map of Netflix Providers – Note: only the grey areas do not have Netflix. Note: China is the big grey area.

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Map of Netflix Access

We are not huge TV viewers, but we do subscribe to Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix back home. Now that TVs are so fancy and all HDMI, we save money and stay home to watch high-quality shows and movies from our couch. We stopped getting cable in the States a long time ago.

When we moved to Beijing, one of the first things we had to figure out was personal Internet access, not just for our online viewing, but for Google Chrome, which is also not reliably accessible here and my browser of choice. The default browser is Safari. I haven’t used Safari forever! And, for work, it is back to Outlook…. Eeek! (Of all the things I miss most, it is working through Google!)

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To gain online access we have wifi with passcodes. In our case, we live on the campus where we work and they provide restricted wifi, but we also installed our own personal wifi that is sometimes faster. If you remember dial-up speed… well, access to the Internet is a delicate and frustrating component of living here. Like traveling back in Internet time 10 years. However, it took us about four weeks to figure out any wifi access, so every day we get online, we are happy, even if it is restricted sometimes.

Having personal wifi does not allow us to access banned sites. For that, we need a VPN – Virtual Proxy Network.

PTL VPN 2You can understand the VPNs this way – we pay a fee to have a Netflix account in the US. We are living in China. We want to watch the shows we are paying for on our account, but access here is denied. So, we pay another monthly fee to a provider that tricks the Internet into thinking we are still in the US when we are watching Netflix or anything else for that matter. Like having an approved proxy stand in your place to vote. Except this is somewhat under the table. Even as I type this, I worry that somehow either Netflix or China will find me out and I will no longer be able to use my VPN, or God forbid Gmail! I write this to you at great risk to myself. Going without Internet access might just kill me. (Big Brother, if you are reading, please don’t pull the plug!)

There is rumor here among teachers that Netflix has started shutting down the proxy provider links and many have faced extreme frustration over being denied access to previously available programs. The expat community will be devastated if we cannot figure out a way around all the bureaucracy and online territorial lines being digitally drawn. It is affectionately called the “Great Firewall of China”.

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Living here has been amazing and the Chinese people have been welcoming and warm. I don’t want anyone getting the impression that folks walk around here feeling oppressed or in fear, quite the opposite. There is a considerable feeling of safety and security within all the regulations for most. (Let’s just compare gun laws for instance – safer here. Or, drunk driving laws – safer here. Or, health care – better here.)

Some people trust that the government is watching out for them, some think the government is stubborn and want to see faster progress in regards to many regulations. I guess I feel that China today can be somewhat, and I say somewhat very loosely, compared to the U.S. during the prohibition era. Alcohol was considered a curse and was banned, as were some books at that time. Information was tightly controlled. China is very conservative in some ways and innocent in others. You can understand why a country wants to keep people “innocent” – we did it, and we hear folks pining for those good ole’ days before TV, rock ‘n roll, and hippies ruined everything.

Even we fear the unknown! Do we believe Steve Jobs?

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There are layers here in China that I will never understand, like Internet censorship and some of the reasons China has for being so restrictive. I know that the government is seen as a protector of its citizens, but what about Netizens? From what I can understand it is sometimes about censoring the sites and then cloning them. This keeps control within the government but still provides the people with social media access and tools. In the picture below, on the left is what we use in the U.S., on the right, is the clone version online in China. The people cannot access the global free Internet, but they do have access to their own version. And, FYI, VPNs are not just a Western phenomenon.

china online clones

This TED Talks link is really helpful and worth a watch if you want to know more about China and how it is dealing with Netizens and online access to information.

From TED: Michael Anti (aka Jing Zhao) has been blogging from China for 12 years. Despite the control, the central government has over the Internet — “All the servers are in Beijing” — he says that hundreds of millions of microbloggers are in fact creating the first national public sphere in the country’s history, and shifting the balance of power in unexpected ways.

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/michael_anti_behind_the_great_firewall_of_china.html” target=”_blank”>TED Talks – Behind the Great Firewall

For me, all I want is to watch a good movie from my couch and order in some Chinese. I might have to wait until I get back to New York for both.

From Beijing to New York,

-Angie

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