In China, your local TV will be mostly limited to Chinese TV shows or a few American shows synchronized into Mandarin, if you don’t live in a big expat residential compound that has some international channels available. And after a while, you will start craving a TV show from home.
But don’t worry! You have a a couple of options for watching American TV shows and some other foreign TV while in China.
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Access US or Other Foreign TV with VPN
Thankfully, you can watch American TV online with Hulu or Netflix or directly on the websites of some TV stations. Or you can catch up with your favorite series with a subscription on Amazon Prime. You can even get a free trial on Amazon for each channel, and cancel anytime, a great way to try out if this works for you.
Believe it or not, there’s even a way to watch The Big Bang Theory on Netflix, if you’re interested 🙂
You will need a VPN, also known as a “Virtual Private Network, because those streaming services are usually limited to people (or servers) located in your home county. These services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon restrict content based on where you are located, a practice known as “geo-restricting”.
That’s where a VPN comes in handy. Without getting too technical, a VPN basically tricks these services into thinking that you’re watching from a different location other than China.
This sounds like a good option, right? Well, having a good VPN service like ExpressVPN (that I’ve used for many years) is definitely useful and, I would say, essential as foreigner in China. (and by using this link for ExpressVPN, you’ll instantly get 3 months free for any annual subscription!)
But don’t forget, China has notoriously slow internet connections for non-Chinese websites.
If video streaming is too slow for you, stops for buffering or reverts to audio only because of the slow connection, don’t despair. You still have other options.
Buy the DVD
If you are patient enough to wait for the season to be over, you can buy the whole season on DVD. Small stores with amazing selection of TV series are often located in expat heavy areas. They may, however, occasionally close or move the pirated DVD’s to a back room.
Watch foreign TV on Chinese websites
Have you ever noticed all the Chinese people on the subway watching US TV series? Just like them, you can access many foreign programs on Chinese websites or through Chinese apps. The Chinese sites are much faster than the international websites and have a great variety of US and other foreign TV series, often even all prior seasons.
From my perspective, the best apps/websites for TV are PPTV and Sohu TV (see Resources for links and more info). Another popular one is Youku, which I don’t use personally but some friends do. They are entirely in Chinese but are not hard to navigate. When using the website in Google Chrome, you can use the Google Translate function, a very useful feature for many Chinese internet sites. Again, you will need a VPN that works well for expats in China because Google apps are usually blocked in China.
I usually go through the Chinese app, which accesses the Chinese website. The apps have little pictographs for movies, TV, etc. Within that section you can define further by using the filters by year and by country, e.g. 美国 for the US. You can also search for a specific show using the search bar with the little magnifying glass icon. (Although some shows don’t show up in the search, even though they are available. Must be a transcription error.)
Shows are usually available the day after they originally aired and remain available throughout the entire season, so you can always go back. All shows have Chinese and often also English subtitles. Best of all, there are no commercial breaks.
Not all websites/apps have the same shows so you may need more than one app. I personally like Sohu TV best because the search function seems to work better and it keeps track at which episode you left off. I read somewhere that Sohu has an agreement with CWTV in the US and airs many of their shows.
Or just enjoy a Chinese TV show
As you are learning Mandarin, watching a Chinese TV show can actually be fun, or at least a good way to improve your listening skills. The Chinese websites/apps I mentioned above have an amazing variety of local TV shows. They usually also have subtitles in Chinese characters, which adds to the learning. You may have to listen into a couple different shows to find one where the main actors speak somewhat clearly and not too fast, and the Chinese subtitles are written big enough. The good thing is that you can rewind and listen over and over again, or stop to look up characters to help with understanding.