YouTube is one of the most popular apps in the western world.

It’s used for entertainment, education, and even exercise (well, not me).

So, it’s normal that you would continue using YouTube while you’re in China, right?

I’m afraid not. But the good news is there’s a way around it.

Is YouTube banned in China?

Like many other foreign websites and apps, YouTube is banned in China.

In fact, YouTube has been blocked by the Great Firewall of China since 2009.

And once China blocks a foreign app, there’s usually no coming back. It’s buried in the country’s Banned App Graveyard forever.

How to watch YouTube in China

youtube app blocked in china

Luckily, there’s a way foreign tourists can watch YouTube. Image by Primakov on Shutterstock.

Just because YouTube is banned in China, it doesn’t mean that it will be out of your reach. Yay!

Most travelers who visit China use a virtual private network (VPN) so that they can continue to use YouTube, Instagram, Google, Facebook and other familiar sites.

So what is a VPN? It’s basically a way of directing your internet traffic through a private, encrypted connection.

This means you’ll be able to connect to a remote server in parts of the world that allow YouTube, like Europe and the United States.

To get a VPN for your trip, you can read the review of the best China VPNs here. Or, skip the review and tap on the button below for the most recommended one.

Just make sure you download the VPN before you arrive as VPN sales are blocked in China.

Too many tourists make this mistake!

Why is YouTube banned in China?

YouTube was blocked in China for a few reasons.

Firstly, the Chinese government had little control over the content on the platform.

For instance, there could be videos that are considered inappropriate or immoral (e.g. overly sexualized), or promote ideas or beliefs that the government doesn’t want spreading to Chinese citizens, e.g. religion.

There could also be videos that are considered to be a threat to the Chinese Communist Party. This includes videos that are critical of communism or promote democracy in China, or other large-scale movements that could destabilize the communist regime.

So, it’s all about having control of the narrative.

Secondly, the Chinese government wanted its own tech platforms to grow and thrive. A juggernaut like YouTube may not have given local players a chance to compete, which has been the case in most other countries.

(By the way, the tech industry in China is now one of the most innovative in the world.)

For more on banned apps, check out the list of websites and apps banned in China.

What are the best Chinese YouTube alternatives?

youku is the chinese version of youtube

Youku is the Chinese version of YouTube. Image by Tada Images on Shutterstock.

If you’re stuck in China without a VPN, or you just want some alternatives, there are some great Chinese video platforms that are similar to YouTube.

You’ll just need to be able to read Mandarin or use an in-app translator.

The original YouTube copycat is Youku. It’s one of the most popular video apps among Chinese people.

There’s also Tencent Video and Kuaishou, which can be both entertaining and educational, and Bilbili which attracts more young people.

And, you may have heard of Douyin. This is the Chinese version of TikTok and the short video app of choice among most Chinese.

To find out more, check out the apps China list.

My suggestion is that you try out some of the Chinese sites if you’re spending an extended amount of time in the country.

This will give you a whole different perspective on Chinese culture and daily life.

Is it illegal to use YouTube in China?

No, YouTube and all the other blocked sites aren’t actually illegal in China.

This means you can still watch your favorite YouTube videos (with a VPN) without worrying about violating Chinese law.

The Chinese authorities are aware that foreign travelers in China, and even some local Chinese people, are using VPNs to access YouTube.

They prefer to simply focus on different ways of blocking VPN access rather than prosecuting people who get around these rules.

(If you’re interested in finding out more, read the article called Are VPNs legal in China?)

When you try to go onto YouTube in China without a VPN, you’ll just get an error message. This is the same as most other major social media sites.

The takeaway: Accessing YouTube in China

Even though YouTube is banned in China, you can still watch it with a VPN service.

This is one of the many reasons why I suggest you get a good VPN before you touch down in China.

Or if you’re ready to buy, just tap on the button below for the most recommended one.

Don’t forget there are alternatives to YouTube in China, providing you can understand Chinese.

I hope you have an amazing time in China!

Liked my article? Then you’ll also like the one I wrote about the best time to visit China (another spoiler alert – it’s spring or fall). Otherwise, keep scrolling down for more general info about using a VPN in China and some frequently asked questions.

Main image credit: Sergei Elagin on Shutterstock.

Additional benefits of using a VPN in China

VPN technology allows internet users to stay connected to the internet wherever they go, no matter how much internet censorship is in place.

This means you’ll be able to access your favorite sites no matter where you go. But using a VPN also has other benefits such as:

Online privacy

A VPN shields your digital identity from hackers, advertisers, and Internet Service Providers (ISP).

This means your online activities become totally private, which is super-important in a country where privacy doesn’t really count for anything.

Security in public

The security on public Wi-Fi networks such as those in cafes or at airports isn’t as secure as it should be.

A VPN will keep you safe and anonymous on the most open network, ensuring your privacy and security.

Anonymity for work

If you work in a business that requires a level of privacy, then you should use a VPN. It will mean you can download and share files without worries about security or exposing any IP addresses.

What’s more, all the major work applications and file-sharing systems, like OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Slack, are inaccessible in China unless you’ve got a VPN.

The best VPN for China

There are a variety of free and paid VPNs on the market at the moment, but you’ll probably need to use a paid one when you travel to China.

Free VPNs are either super-slow or won’t work in China at all. It’s usually the latter.

The paid VPNs have strong security and usually unlimited bandwidth, and you can get a monthly or yearly subscription to suit your needs no matter how long you’re staying in the country.

The best VPNs for use in China are highlighted here.

These VPNs are usually available for Windows, iOS, MacOS, Linux, Fire TV, and Android devices. They can be downloaded from Google Play, the App Store, or from providers’ websites.

As I mentioned before, just make sure that you download and set up your VPN before you arrive in China, because VPN websites will be blocked once you land.

How to use a VPN

Setting up and using a VPN in China to bypass the county’s internet restrictions shouldn’t take you too long. The general steps are:

  • Sign up for your chosen VPN
  • Open the app and go through the sign-in process
  • Set up a server location or choose the recommended one (most VPN apps say this option is best for China)
  • Tap the connection button and wait for the internet to come online.

When it comes to setting up a server location, you’ll have numerous choices.

Many people in China choose Taiwan or Japan as these locations are geographically close and can offer a fast internet connection from mainland China.

But often the fastest server is located further away, and the app will tell you where that is. If you get stuck, paid VPN providers provide good customer service around the clock.

FAQ about YouTube banned in China

Is YouTube still blocked in China?

It sure is. It’s been blocked for more than 14 years, and it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon.

What do Chinese use instead of YouTube?

Right now, Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) is the most popular social media platform. But Chinese people also use and love Youku (the original Chinese YouTube copycat), Bilibili, Kuaishou and Tencent Video. There’s also iQIYI for movies and TV shows.

Why are there YouTubers in China if the platform is banned there?

They use VPNs. But even paid VPNs are increasingly problematic as the Chinese censorship cracks down on their use.

Is YouTube banned in Hong Kong?

No, it can still be used freely in Hong Kong without a VPN.

What websites are blocked in China?

All the major foreign ones including Google (and all Google sites like Gmail and Google Maps), Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, X, Reddit, Netflix, Wikipedia, and all the main news sites. Sites in industries like porn, gambling, and crypto trading are also banned.