While Gmail has always been very tough to access in China, it seems that it has now become fully blocked since December 26, and possibly by the Chinese Government itself. Previously, people were able to download Gmail through third-parties due to internet restrictions in China but it has now become completely impossible on all Chinese public networks.
China already blocks an array of Google services including its main search site, Google Maps, Google Docs, and Google Drive. The country began making access to Gmail more difficult in the run up to the 25th anniversary of the 1989 June 4th Tiananmen Square protests, but determined users could still access their accounts from apps via IMAP, POP, and STMP protocols. Now, it seems, Chinese censors have closed this loophole, leaving virtual private networks (VPNs) as the last remaining access route to Gmail and other blocked services.
In the back story of this issue, it seems Google has not always seen eye to eye with the Chinese Government. While Google claims it’s working towards freedom of information, it has several times denied the Chinese Government’s censorship request which led to its search engine being blocked in China. It would look as though Google’s Gmail followed the same ending as its search engine.
China has been seen as taking an increasingly restrictive approach to online censorship in recent years, with one expert describing it as “an unprecedented crackdown.” As well as Google, sites including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are all blocked in the country, while authorized services are heavily monitored and controversial search terms banned outright.