One question we are often asked is whether it is really needed to host a website in China when targeting visitors, clients or in general users from mainland China?
The reply is yes and no.
China is today the second largest economy in the world and many Western companies are involved with China in a way or another. Many are importing products from China, others have products that have a potential market in China. Some are even considering moving to China to establish a branch there. Most Fortune 500 companies have branches, factories or representative offices in China.
For many companies whether online or brick and mortar the internet is playing a very important role in day to day operations. While using emails or running a website might be an after thought in the developed world, the existence of the Great Firewall Program however makes it a real issue in China. The Great Firewall Program basically is a program run by the Chinese government to monitor and filter the internet, all international connections from and to China will go through this program.
The most known effect of the Great Firewall is the blocking of various overseas websites in China. Thus, when a website is deemed to breach Chinese laws, it allows the government to prevent its access from any internet connection in mainland China. While using virtual private networks (VPNs) is a way to bypass this, the greatest majority of Chinese users will not go through the hustle of purchasing or configuring one.
Another less known effect is that due to the GFW filtering foreign websites access is significantly slowed down in China. The farther the foreign server, the slower its access within China. Websites hosted on servers in the East Side of the US, or Western Europe would in general be very slow when accessed from China. Websites hosted in the west coast of the US, Japan, Singapore etc. will be comparatively faster.
For a general business website, without much media content, hosting is a nearest location of China should be sufficient to reach Chinese users, even if not as optimal as hosting locally. One host we often recommend on My China Hosting Blog is SinoHosting (www.sinohosting.net) which is focused on hosting foreign companies targeting China, and offer servers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea which are fast to access from various regions within China (for example websites targeting Guandong province should host in Hong Kong, while those targeting Beijing or the Northern China should host in South Korea etc.).
Websites that are blocked in China are usually adult-related sites, political websites and the like. As such, it is unlikely that your business website will be specifically blocked by the great firewall, unless they share a server or IP address with a site that happened to be blocked. As such, it is recommended for websites heavily targeting China to choose a host that focuses on China users such as SinoHosting or Kowloon Hosting.
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.