Reliable Web Hosting in China
07 Sep 2005
Anyone who lives in China and maintains a website knows that it can be difficult. Websites are frequently blocked and unblocked for no discernible reason. Maintaining your website from China may become extremely difficult (if not impossible) if it is blocked in China. With this in mind, choosing a hosting service for your website can be tricky.
This article assumes you are looking for professional hosting which offers ample online disk space, reasonable bandwidth limits, MySQL databases, e-mail accounts, etc. MySQL databases (or some form of database) are necessary to run advanced blogging software like WordPress or Movable Type.
Question 1: Servers Inside or Outside China?
Some people opt to go with a Chinese hosting plan. The obvious advantages are that your website is much less likely to be blocked (although there is no guarantee), and the site should load much faster for anyone in China.
Hosting your website in China has some big problems, however. First, you need to be aware that your website content is subject to censorship. Hosting in China means your freedom of speech is limited. Failure to respect this could result in loss of hosting or worse. Second, hosting in China will likely involve more paperwork than you’d like, and it may very well all be in Chinese. Third, your site may be very slow for visitors outside of China.
A possible compromise between hosting in mainland China and hosting overseas is hosting in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s website hosting packages are typically much more expensive than deals to be had elsewhere, however.
Let your content and audience dictate where you find your hosting. If your primary readership will be overseas, go with an overseas host. I would really only recommend a Chinese host for a completely uncontroversial Chinese language website.
The other option is finding website hosting outside of China. Hosting plans of companies based in the U.S. are typically the cheapest you’ll find anywhere, and they come loaded with features — typically way more than the average small-time webmaster needs. Furthermore, the servers can be very fast, even in China. The rest of this article will deal with American hosting companies.
Question 2: Which Host is the Best?
First I should mention that due to the capricious nature of the Great Firewall of China, the situation will change. That is inevitable. What I recommend today may be completely accessible in mainland China tomorrow. I can only base my recommendations on what I have observed and experienced up to this point.
My first host in China was iPowerWeb. This host was fine as long as nothing went wrong. As things tend to go wrong in China, however, this turned into a disaster. My site became inaccessible under this host, and support was extremely unhelpful. Getting my site off of iPowerWeb’s servers was quite a headache. (More detailed complaints)
Next I moved to Webmasters.com. I was very happy with Webmasters for a time, but then my site slowed down to the point of being virtually inaccessible in Shanghai (although, reportedly, it was accessible in other parts of China). Webmasters was sympathetic, but there was nothing they could do about a problem on the China side. I was forced to move yet again.
I briefly tried Surpass Hosting. Surpass was extremely cheap, but also suffered from extreme slowdown soon after I signed up with them. Not their fault, but again, unusable. I had to move again.
After considering DreamHost, I finally settled on HostGator. I went with HostGator because they offered a solid, affordable package, and decent speed in China. I have been using HostGator for over a year with no major issues. My hosting package has been repeatedly expanded at no extra cost. Support has always been helpful and very quick to respond. A responsive support team is extremely important.
I have heard from quite a few other China bloggers that DreamHost is an excellent choice for webmasters based in China. Over the years, DreamHost has proved its reliability. DreamHost offers plans similarly priced to HostGator’s, with similar features.
Question 3: HostGator or DreamHost?
If you have accepted my advice this far, you still have to decide between Hostgator and Dreamhost. Let me break it down for you to help you decide.
Disk Space, Bandwidth, Extras
– Both HostGator and DreamHost offer excellent packages with plenty of disk space and bandwidth, and all the tools and options necessary for a modern website.
– Even with the hosts’ cheapest options (well under $10 per month), most modest websites will have more than adequate disk space and bandwidth.
The “control panel” is the interface the hosting company gives you. It is through the control panel that you can create e-mail addresses, monitor your bandwidth usage, password protect directories, etc.
– HostGator uses cPanel, which is widely known for its power and ease of use. After using several different systems, I really like cPanel and view it as a big plus.
– DreamHost uses its own custom control panel. I have heard both positive and negative reviews. Even if it is not the most intuitive, however, it offers extensive control.
Obviously, both companies accept payment by credit card. What I find important is the option to pay on a month by month basis. This is important because if your host’s servers ever become inaccessible in China, the most you’ll ever lose is a month of service. Some hosts (like Webmasters) will actually refund you the months you don’t use if you have to cancel, but experience has taught me that it’s safest just to pay as I go.
– HostGator offers monthly payments, automatically charged to your credit card. There is no setup fee. I really like this system.
– DreamHost offers monthly payments in theory, but in order to take advantage of that option, you have to pay a rather hefty one-time setup fee. This encourages people to opt for the yearly payment plan, which waives the setup fee.
– HostGator has an “Affiliates” program whereby referrals to HostGator can earn the referrer money. It is not heavily promoted by HostGator, however.
– DreamHost heavily promotes its “rewards” program. Many longtime users of DreamHost not only pay nothing for their hosting because they have made numerous referrals, but they actually make money every month.
I can confidently recommend both HostGator and DreamHost to the serious webmaster that lives in or plans to live in China. The situation could change, but at the moment these two stand out.
If you found this review helped you decide to use one of the above hosting companies’ services, please click on the above links when you order so that I get credit for referring you.
NOTE: My time spent in China has been limited to Hangzhou and Shanghai. The Great Firewall of China is not entirely uniform, so I cannot accurately speak for all of China with regards to server speed. To my knowledge, neither HostGator nor Dreamhost have any history of being blocked anywhere in China.