How to watch Netflix in China

Mikaela Bray
Mikaela Bray | Contributing Writer
Last updated: February 9, 2022
netflix in china
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Officially, this page shouldn’t exist. Netflix has not expanded its service into China, and there’s technically no way to watch the international TV and movie streaming service in the People’s Republic. However, that’s not really the case. Accessing Netflix in China is easily achievable if you know how to work around the geo-blocking of Netflix.

This blog will outline how to access US Netflix in China, enabling travelers and locals to expand their streaming options beyond iQiyi (often dubbed the Netflix of China).

There are a number of tools that will help you unblock Netflix in China:

  • VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)
  • SmartDNS
  • Proxy services

So, if entertainment matters to you, read on. There’s no reason to be constrained by censorship and geo-blocking. It’s time to discover ways to bypass the state and liberate the content you love.

Use a VPN or SmartDNS to unblock Netflix in China

VPN is the easiest way to beat the censors in Beijing and the geo-blocking of Netflix at the same time.

VPNs work by routing traffic through remote servers located across the world. They create encrypted communication “tunnels,” which make it almost impossible to tell what data is being received and sent.

By connecting to a VPN server in a certain country, you make it seem like your IP address belongs to a person in that country. This means you can watch Netflix as if you’re an American citizen.

Additionally, since you’re connecting to a VPN server, rather than directly to Netflix, Chinese censorship will not be able to block your access. According to reports, Netflix is not currently blocked by the Great Firewall, but many other services are – a VPN would help you with this.

SmartDNS works differently. Instead of routing traffic through a remote server, it merely uses a different DNS server to resolve queries. This fools Netflix, but your IP is still your IP – you can’t get past Chinese censors this way.

It’s important to note here that SmartDNS also doesn’t entail encryption. All it does is to assign you a different geographical identity. In that sense, SmartDNS is good for Netflix in China, but not for services blocked by the Chinese government.

When trying to access US Netflix in China, it is absolutely essential to choose quality over price. VPNs vary massively according to their ability to mask IPs and encrypt data. Some can’t work around Netflix blocks, while others simply don’t work in China at all, so they are immediately non-starters.

Here are a few providers that are almost guaranteed to work well in China, and ensure reliable access to the full library of Netflix content:

1. NordVPN

NordVPN service logo

Based in the Central American country of Panama, NordVPN is regularly assessed as the finest VPN in the world. It works brilliantly in China and is more than capable of breaking through the Great Firewall. So accessing Netflix servers abroad shouldn’t pose too many problems. Additionally, NordVPN comes with a feature called SmartPlay. This mixes together military-grade encryption via VPN protection, with SmartDNS. It’s a great way to maximize digital freedom and safety at the same time.

2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN service logo

As well-respected as NordVPN (and possibly slightly faster for Chinese users), ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands and is a popular option among Netflix users worldwide. As with NordVPN, ExpressVPN has taken the needs of streaming fans into account, and come up with a special tool to enhance their experience. Media streamer is essentially a slick SmartDNS tool, which can be added to computers or smart TVs.

3. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield service logo

Developed by AnchorFree, and based in the USA, Hotspot Shield became famous during the “Arab Spring”, when protesters in North Africa and the Middle East sought to use the internet to topple dictatorial rulers. So it’s no surprise to learn that it works equally well in the People’s Republic of China. And it’s a very reliable tool for Netflix viewers as well. There’s no SmartDNS proxy included with Hotspot Shield, but it is still very capable of unblocking Netflix.

The status of Netflix in China

Netflix currently has a presence on every continent and has attracted more than 150 million subscribers to its streaming platform. But there’s one 2 billion strong market that the company hasn’t been able to tap: China.

The roots of the Netflix-China confrontation reach back to 2016 when Netflix launched a major global expansion. The Chinese government wasn’t keen to approve an influx of US-produced television, films, and documentaries, and blocked the introduction of the standard Netflix site into its territory.

However, there was some wriggle-room, and the question of is Netflix in China is more complicated than you might think.

Instead of launching Netflix, the streaming company struck a partnership with iQiyi, which would act as an intermediary. Under this agreement, Netflix could license content to iQiyi on a product-by-product basis. Beijing could maintain control of what was shown, while Netflix would profit from selling certain shows and movies to a Chinese audience.

The problem was, Chinese consumers didn’t embrace iQiyi’s content, which excluded most of the shows that have made Netflix an indispensable tool in western countries. So the partnership fizzled out and officially ended in 2018.

As a result, Netflix moved on, focusing on India, and creating Chinese-language content to sell to Chinese people outside the country’s borders. As of 2020, this means that technically, Netflix is not blocked, but it isn’t available without external tools.

Netflix equivalents in China

Netflix is the global leader in delivering streaming content, but it’s not the only place for Chinese viewers to head for high-quality movies and TV shows. If you aren’t keen to take the risk of bypassing censorship and trying to access Netflix in China, these local providers could be worth checking out.

1. iQiyi

This is a very similar service to Netflix, and with more than 500 million registered users actually towers over the California-based company in terms of the user base. It was created in 2010 by the social network Baidu, and the content on offer tends to be closely in line with the priorities of Beijing’s censors.

The range of programming available on iQiyi tends to slant heavily towards East Asian productions, with plenty of excellent Korean movies and TV shows, such as the hugely popular My Love from the Star. However, since the Netflix partnership ended, the selection of western shows has been pretty thin, limiting its potential for visitors to China.

2. Youku

Youku offers more of a YouTube-style experience. Owned by retail giant Alibaba, it hosts plenty of action-oriented police dramas, romance shows, and the odd Marvel superhero film (with Chinese subtitles).

3. Tencent Video

More like a digital version of Blockbuster than a Netflix clone, Tencent Video has over 900 million subscribers, making it the largest business of its type in the world. As far as watching movies is concerned, most experts see Tencent and iQiyi as the two major contenders, but neither offers much US-produced TV content, and many popular movies are absent. And that’s why finding ways to access US Netflix in China are so important.

Bottom line

Netflix is a fantastic streaming platform, hosting compelling dramas, surreal comedies, adult-oriented cartoons, and films that range from tearjerkers to all-action superhero adventures. It’s also been a global success story, spreading US television shows to every continent. There’s just a huge China-shaped hole in the company’s global reach.

However, as we’ve seen, that doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle for people who want to watch US Netflix in China. By using SmartSNS proxies, users may be able to fool censors into providing access to foreign Netflix servers. But if you really want reliable (and safe) access to Netflix, it’s much wiser to opt for a VPN with SmartDNS.

Match up Netflix access with thriving Chinese platforms like iQiyi and Tencent, and you could enjoy the widest content selection anywhere in the world.

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