Is china really a HUGE nightmare for privacy enthusiasts?

For my higher studies at university I’ve currently gotten recommended by a teacher to a few very prestigious universities in China, and I can tell that after graduating from these life would be very sweet for me. I unfortunately am unable to go to any other country because of cost of living, university fees and etc. and also my school professors recommend most of us to China because of the insane rigor of curriculum over there and the resources towards studies the country has.

However little do they know I’m a bit of a privacy nerd, and I’m really scared of what’s gonna happen to me, my personal life, my online life and my social life once I enter to live in China for a few years (at least). Currently where I live (SEA) life is easy, no huge breaches if privacy, nothing is monitored to seriously (I’m on the outskirts of the city). Basically it isn’t the dystopia like Big Brother from george orwell’s 1984.

Is living in China identical to the world from 1984? if it is then i’m going to have to cancel any of my documents and other stuff going forward and need to settle in for a new university in my local area. Help is urgently needed and appreciated.


China is roughly similar to America in terms of privacy, only with an element of censorship. All Internet blocks can be bypassed.
This is not 1984 or any dystopia if that worries you. No one will arrest you for visiting the Western Internet.

Sure, totally.
The social score system, the app for everything WeChat, the great firewall of China. Pretty much the same, yeah.
The USA are certainly not the champions in privacy but hey, go ahead choose your poison.


If it’s just for the duration of the study programme, it might be fine. My recommendations:

  • “lay low”, don’t post anything remotely political on social media, always act - in real life and online - as if everything you do will be monitored and can be used against you
  • clean your social media before, for example you might get a problem if you’ve publicly posted anything anti-communist, pro-Taiwan, pro-HK, pro-democratic etc.
  • research in advance how you can still connect to the internet beyond the great firewall (and set it all up before you go)
  • stick as much as you can to hardware and software you trust (e.g. GrapheneOS/DivestOS phone, Linux laptop, open source apps where possible)
  • compartmentalize. If you need to use WeChat or some Chinese government apps, get a burner phone in a local shop. Set up a new email address that you use in China.
  • encrypt your data. This includes full disk encryption on your PC for example, and using e.g. Cryptomator for anything you sync to the cloud.

Seems like you have not been to China in the last 10 years.


Honestly if i were you id pick another country or just stay at home and study.

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‘‘The social score system’’
The social credit system only shows your financial creditworthiness, which is not a huge privacy threat and exist in the west too(there is still social creditworthiness, but it is not used)
‘‘the app for everything WeChat’’
I agree, it’s bad for privacy.
‘‘the great firewall of China’’
Can be bypassed so not a big deal.

What is wrong with my statement?FBI knows everything about you if you live in USA.Chinese agencies is the same.This is not praise if anything

Alright so here’s some tips for you to protect your privacy in China.

  • Get an eSIM/SIM for use in China

These sort of international SIM cards bypass the firewall/blocks in China, VPNs are incredibly hit or miss and can randomly get blocked. I’d say combine the SIM with a VPN though for extra security.

  • Use cash

Surprisingly, a lot of people still use cash in China (despite what people may think) you don’t actually need to signup to WeChat.

There is also a crazy amount of cameras in China, but there’s not that much you can do about that :person_shrugging:

How does that work?

Hard agree with Regime6045’s recommendations, and honestly, I’m not even sure if you could/should set everything up in advance.

It might be reasonable for you to encrypt all your data and store it in the cloud and then factory reset your devices before and after crossing the border, before retrieving your data. This way, you absolutely minimize the chances of them getting anything. Can’t speak to how likely that is, but if you’re like me, then this might be worth doing just for peace of mind.

I don’t live in China, so I can’t tell you what that’s like.

Honestly though, when it comes to a decision like this, I think privacy’s a bit low on my priority list. Going to study in another country’s no small thing…

China is nothing like 1984…those who say so have obviously never really lived in or traveled in China. The level of intrusion on one’s digital privacy is roughly the same as with most countries with more sensitivity towards political topics, so be smart and don’t put out too much of your opinions on these subject matters digitally. The so-called social credit score as western media / social media portrays is an outright lie.

Life will be much easier if you do have Wechat and use their payment system. Will it be privacy invasive in terms of collecting tracking information? Well yeah but it’s not like something similar isn’t happening with G pay, Samsung Pay, or Apple. It’s always about a compromise when you use such digital tools so either pay completely by cash or just don’t buy shady things.

You’ll def need a good vpn though to access certain services / websites so research on that first.

Otherwise I highly recommend you go…it’ll be an incredibly useful experience, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll expand your perspective and world view incredibly. Just keep an open mind and put away the stereotypes and propaganda that you’ve been fed.

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In the case of using Wechat, a separate user profile would probably be a good idea. Just know that it does have a lot of permissions some of the most sensitive ones:

The thing with apps like this that “do so much” is they can have plausible reasons for requiring those permissions, but at the same time underlying code can also be privacy issue too. Especially if certain surveillance features are enabled for persons of interest (you’re not likely one of those).

I certainly wouldn’t run this app in a primary profile on my phone as I would not want it to raid my contact list (which it can). Note that the Facebook app also does this so that it can suggest Facebook friends based on their phone numbers to you.

The usage of any payment services with this app will be tied to your known identity through your financial credentials.

The app does scan your messages against a list published by the Chinese government, so I would avoid any thing of political nature being discussed. In fact I wouldn’t discuss anything on it you want to keep private. Keep that to instant messenger apps (such as the ones we recommend) that have E2EE and are unable to be externally intercepted.

Make sure to have a VPN like one of the ones we recommend. I would avoid any VPN that is of Chinese origin (or friendly to China, eg Russia).

On that there are a few articles. Windscribe produced a map of some of those relations.

Mullvad and IVPN may make sense here as they’ve got v2ray support which is often required in order to circumvent deep packet inspection techniques used in China. An interesting blog article about that (from 2016), explains some of the tests a curious infosec professional attempted.

While not listed currently on Privacy Guides (because iOS client isn’t open source yet, but it will be. You could also consider Windscribe’s WStunnel.


Adding a few things.

Privacyguides website was blocked a few weeks ago.

Shops are mandated by law to accept cash, however in some place it is almost not used. So they will struggle to give you change.

Alipay can also be used to pay.

Getting a burner email is useless, as most services mandate a chinese phone number.

The GFW is hard to bypass. You can use local solutions, which by design aren’t very private/secure but are very fasy, or use Mullvad (use their Europe owned servers) /IVPN with Multi-hop and get slow speed.

Probably because anything which discusses VPNs which are seen as a means to circumvent censorship.

Or self host something outside of china with v2ray, that would probably work, but of course it would cost money.

Interesting that two new accounts were made with their only comments so far just to downplay China’s all-encompasing surveillance. Not suspicious at all.


fair observation, longtime lurker but felt that the OP if given an opportunity should definitely take it up as it would be a very enriching experience and that privacy fears should not be a deterring factor. Also just trying to provide another perspective from someone who has worked extensively in China and isn’t just echoing mainstream / Western fear mongering.

Others have already mentioned great tips in terms of dealing with the digital privacy issues. In fact it might be a good idea to have a separate phone completely for just day-to-day usage in China and a separate one for personal use.

Few more things to add :

There is no one social credit score, there are many, most financial credit, a few actually about social matters. This is a bad tl;dr, so do check out this video from PolyMatter The Truth About China's Social Credit System - Invidious

Github is available in China, but create an account beforehand as it is (defacto) unusable without one.

All Private DNS are banned except , which do unlock some websites (CNN, Brave) but not others (NYT, Google, DDG).

China do not try to block 100% of VPN, but it do try to make it an hassle. Furthermore, it add randomness in GFW rules. Few days ago, Instagram was available for a few hours. Whp knows why. Searching on VPN will give you no relevant result, but VPV will. Either officials are tech illiterate, or there is some tolerance. Of course, it is more a lack of repression.

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When I tested that with and it seemed to say github was blocked in China. Though we see many chinese developers there thankfully.

Possible, or maybe just users who are inside China/been there recently. Both suggested circumventing the GFW which is probably not something the great honey bear would approve of :wink: .

Are you saying Windscribe will be a PG recommendation once they publish the iOS source code?