VPNs are popular among people in China who want to access the internet that’s normally blocked from within the country (see our article on the best VPN for China). The Middle Kingdom’s advanced censorship system, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall, censors western social media, news outlets, and streaming video sites, among other content. For this reason, it may sound odd that some VPN users want to do just the opposite: use a VPN to access the internet inside of China.
How to watch Youku from outside China
If you try to access Youku outside of China, you will receive the message “sorry this video can only be streamed within mainland china” (translation ours). To unblock Youku in any country you need a VPN that has Servers in China such as PureVPN. We’ve tested this method and it is a simple workaround to access Youku or other Chinese streaming sites such as LeTV, iQiyi, Sohu, and QQ Video from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France or any other country outside of China. At the time of writing, PureVPN is running a 7-day money-back guarantee offer so you can test this method risk free.
DEAL ALERT: PureVPN has extended it’s New Year sale and is offering a massive discount on it’s 2 year plan here.
China’s most popular video streaming sites have a lot more to offer than one might expect. Youku Tudou, often shortened to just Youku, hosts a vast collection of free-to-watch TV shows and movies. Its catalog includes a treasure trove of western content that users in the US, UK, and Canada would normally have to pay for. All of the content is 100 percent legal and usually doesn’t even require registration to watch.
The catch? The viewer must be in mainland China to watch licensed content. Or at least it must look to Youku as if the user is inside China. Otherwise, Youku will not work. In most cases, you’ll receive an error page like this one, indicating this video can only be streamed within mainland China:
Luckily, spoofing one’s location is simple with a VPN. To access Youku in US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany or France, VPN apps can be installed on PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, or iPad.
What VPN can I use to watch Youku?
Back in 2009, Youku started blocking users with Hong Kong and Taiwan IP addresses from watching licensed video content. That means users must choose a VPN with servers operating on the mainland. This stipulation narrows the options considerably, as most VPNs don’t bother with the additional costs and risk of running a server there.
The VPN must also be fast enough and allow enough data to reliably stream video, while also keeping up privacy standards. For these reasons, we strongly suggest a paid VPN service over a free one. Our top recommendation is PureVPN, which operates servers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong. Besides the Chinese servers, PureVPN has a huge selection of locations, fast connections, and an easy to use app. However, it does log the real IP addresses of its users, despite the no-logs policy, so privacy-conscious users should be aware that their activity could be traced back to them.
Other honorable mentions include EarthVPN, HideMyAss, and Astrill, all of which have some servers in China and are fairly reputable. FlyVPN and SenVPN run a few servers each in China, but Comparitech has not tested these and cannot vouch for them at this time.
How do I watch Youku from outside of China?
Once you have downloaded, installed, and logged into the VPN of your choice, find the full list of servers. Search for any server located on mainland China; Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangdong are the biggest major cities where servers are likely to be located. Choose one and connect to it.
Once connected, open a browser and navigate to Youku. If you recently visited the site without a VPN, make sure to clear your cookies first.
Often searching for the English name of the show you’re looking for will bring up the correct result, but sometimes you might need to know the Chinese name. To find it, go to Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, and type in the English name there. This should bring up a result (often from Douban.com or Baidu Baike) that contains both the English and Chinese names. Chinese television and movie names are usually three or four characters long.
Copy and paste the characters into the Youku search bar. Look for results with the appropriate length of time, i.e. between 20 and 30 minutes for a half hour show, between 40 and 75 minutes for a longer TV drama, etc. Shows are split up by seasons, so once you find the show you want, the list of episodes for that season will be displayed on the right hand side of the page.
If you just prefer to browse TV shows, take a look at this link for American titles and here for the British catalog. For movies, here are Youku’s American films, and you can find British flicks here. A VPN is not necessary to browse, only to play the video.
Note that Youku might not have every season of each show, and in some cases it may only have a few episodes. Because of China’s strict censorship rules, some content might be altered from the original, especially during scenes containing sexual or violent content. Most movies will be in English with Chinese subtitles, but some–children’s movies and animation in particular–will be dubbed. Finally, expect ads to pop up at random moments. Western ad blockers often don’t stop advertisements from Chinese ad networks.
Western TV shows and movies on Youku
Here is an alphabetized, not comprehensive list of TV shows on Youku:
12 Monkeys, 2 Broke Girls, 24, 30 Rock, Agents of Shield, American Horror Story, Arrow, Boardwalk Empire, Bones, Breaking Bad, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Californication, Cougar Town, Criminal Minds, CSI, Desperate Housewives, Doctor Who, Empire, Everybody Loves Raymond, Falling Skies, Fargo, Friends, Gossip Girl, Gotham, Grey’s Anatomy, Grimm, Heroes Reborn, Homeland, House, House of Cards, How I Met Your Mother, Lie to Me, Lost, Louie, Luther, Mad Men, Modern Family, Mr Robot, New Girl, Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black, Penny Dreadful, Prison Break, Psych, Scandal, Sherlock, Smallville, Supernatural, Teen Wolf, The Americans, The Expanse, The Flash, The League, The Night Manager, The Office, The Tudors, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Two and a Half Men, Under the Dome, Veep, Weeds, White Collar
And here’s a sampling the Western movies on Youku:
007 movies, 12 Years a Slave, 28 Weeks Later, Alien, Alien Versus Predator, Around the World in 80 Days, Assassin’s Creed, Avatar, Batman (all of the new ones), Bronson, Chronicles of Narnia, Concussion, Eddie the Eagle, Eragon, Ex Machina, Fury, Gravity, Green Street Hooligans, Harry Potter movies, Hitman, Hotel Rwanda, Into the Woods, Kung Fu Panda, London has Fallen, Maleficent, Mazerunner, Moon, On the Road, Resident Evil movies, Superman, The Boy in Striped Pajamas, The Brothers Grimm, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Dark Knight Rises, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , The Iron Lady, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Martian, The Pianist, The Woman in Black, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomb Raider, Transporter 3, Tropic Thunder, Troy, X-Men (most of the new ones)
Other Chinese streaming sites
Youku isn’t the only player in China’s video streaming market. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try LeTV, iQiyi, Sohu, and QQ Video, all of which we were able to unblock with PureVPN during our testing. Each has its own exclusive licensing rights with different production studios in the West. Youku, for example, has a lot of titles from Paramount and Dreamworks.
See also: How to get a Chinese IP address