How Expats were Affected by China's 19th National Congress

How China’s 19th National Congress Affected Beijing Expats

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From October 18-24 this year, China held the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China, an important event that only happens once every five years to approve new policies and select its leaders for the next five years (more information here.)

Not unexpectedly, security measures were put in place to ensure the smooth flow of this important event. These security measures can get stressful for local residents, and maybe even more for local expats who don’t follow the news.

Here are some ways local expats were affected by the recent National Congress:

1. VPNs were tightly monitored

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest—these are just some of the many websites blocked in China. In order to access them, China-based individuals need to use a program called a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to use a different country’s IP address to access these sites.

I currently use ExpressVPN, a popular choice for China-based subscribers like myself. A few weeks ago, I suddenly had a hard time logging into my VPN from my phone and my laptop. Two days later I received an e-mail from ExpressVPN about the current situation and encouraging subscribers to upgrade their apps. The links didn’t all work, but thanks to the company’s live chat I was able to resolve it as soon as possible.

2. Whatsapp went down

I don’t have Whatsapp, but many local expats do, and this became a trending topic for some time in a few of my groups. While I’m not sure if the disappearance of Whatsapp is directly connected to the Party Congress, I’m adding it to this list because of its timing. Is it really a coincidence that Whatsapp was banned less than a month before the Party Congress? Probably not. (Read more on Tech Crunch here.)

3. Stricter rules on Wechat groups

An official warning notice came out a while back stating that Wechat Moderators were now responsible for their groups. This meant a few things, including that moderators needed to make sure that their members weren’t talking about anything illegal. Imagine the government scanning every Facebook conversation you have had or will ever have and possibly arresting you for forwarding a petition that’s not in the government’s interest. (Here’s an article to explain this point further.)

4. Limited Kuaidi’s

I was planning to send my friend a gift when our Kuaidi guy (Kuaidi means Express Delivery) explained that all deliveries were halted until after the National Congress. I later on learned that this was true for all Kuaidi’s except for SF (Shun Feng).

5. Extra Security on Trains and Subways

On the day before the Party Congress, I had to take the subway from south of Beijing going up North. It wasn’t rush hour then, and yet I ended up queueing for about twenty minutes just to reach the package scanner. I didn’t experience a full-body check as mentioned in this article, which I’m really thankful for considering the already long wait I had to endure. I couldn’t imagine what traveling during peak hour must have been like!

6. AirBnbs within the fifth ring were unavailable during the second half of October.

In order to lessen the in-flow of travelers into Beijing, AirBnb’s and related home rentals were temporarily prohibited to accept customers during this time. There were also many activities and places that were banned during this time including nightclubs, meeting halls, protests and more. Learn more here.

7. Everyone was stuck with their current Wechat Profile Photos

I learned about this point from our helper, who was unhappy with being unable to change her profile photo. Later on I learned that it wasn’t just our Wechat profile photo that we couldn’t change until the first week of November. Our nicknames and bios were also untouchable until the first week of November. Suffice to say, many probably hated this Party Congress aftereffect the most. (More from the Shanghaiist here.)

8. Foreign sites that were accessible before were harder to access.

Foreign blogs and sites that used to load within a minute took forever to load on my Wi-fi. Most of them didn’t load at all, unless I used my mobile internet. I’m not quite sure why, but this seemed to be a common problem for some other expats as well.

Fortunately, everything is now back to normal. I’m wondering how many folks have already changed their profile pictures.

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