Chinese netizens have a reputation for dodging Chinese censors through wordplay. Through clever homonyms and code words, such as “check the water meter” (抄水表), Chinese internet users are able to discuss police brutality, protests, corruption, and other sensitive topics without getting caught by Chinese censors, also known as the Great Firewall (GFW).
Of course, the Great Firewall isn’t just sensitive to political commentary – it blocks thousands of websites, including Google’s search engine, news articles, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. For many companies in China, circumventing the Great Firewall is necessary to stay productive. Virtual private networks (VPNs), which are offered by both foreign and domestic companies, are a popular way to get around the GFW.
However, for VPN providers that cater to customers in China, day-to-day business can involve dealing with crackdowns from the Chinese government, which employs a variety of tactics to take down VPN connections. That game of cat-and-mouse is a lot more difficult for Chinese VPN providers, as they can be physically shut down by law enforcement and government officials.
Perhaps it’s for that reason that a significant number of Chinese VPN providers choose more nuanced names than those of their Western counterparts, such as ExpressVPN, PureVPN, and HideMyAss. Quite a few draw their names from dynastic literature, alluding to idioms or stories that represent escape, secrecy, or going over a wall (翻墙), another code word for getting around the GFW.
Here are three Chinese VPN providers (all of which have been shut down already) and the stories behind their names:
1. Red Apricot (红杏)
“Red Apricot” is an allusion to a Song dynasty poem by Ye Shaoweng (叶绍翁) about a married woman that has an illicit affair with a lover. In the poem, a red apricot tree leans over a wall (红杏出墙) as a metaphor for adultery. For the Chinese VPN provider, “red apricot” symbolizes “leaning over” or getting around the Great Firewall.
2. A Winding Path (曲径)
This is a reference to a poem by Chang Jian (常建), which can be found in “Three Hundred Tang Poems”, an anthology of Tang dynasty poems compiled in the 18th century by Sun Zhu, a Qing dynasty scholar. One of the lines from the poem is “a winding path leads to a hidden spot” (曲径通幽), where the “winding path” represents the VPN connection that leads individuals outside of the Great Firewall.
3. West Wing (西厢)
“West Wing” refers to a Chinese drama from the Yuan dynasty called “The Story of the Western Wing” (西厢记). The drama describes the story of Zhang Sheng and Cui Yingying, who fall in love against their parents’ wishes. In the story, Zhang Sheng has to climb over a wall in order to meet with Cui Yingying in secret – another reference to circumventing the Great Firewall.