I enjoy watching TV. Probably a little too much. The hours (and brain cells) I lost while watching The Real Housewives series will never come back. Which is why I was worried about how I would be able to watch my favorite TV shows from abroad.
So what are your options if you want to watch American or other foreign TV shows? If you live in a large expat residential compound, you may have access to a few international channels but will be mostly limited to Chinese TV shows. But like most things in China, there are a few hacks that will allow you to get around this obstacle and resume your couch potato ways.
Use your VPN to Stream Online
A VPN will replace your actual IP address with that of the VPN's, making it appear to websites like Hulu and Netflix that you are physically located within the United States (if you pick a US spot for your VPN that is). Just turn on your VPN and you instantly have access to these websites as well as those of all the major TV networks and their online videos. The downside to this solution is that China has notoriously slow internet connections for non-Chinese websites. Video streaming is often slow with frequent stops for buffering. While convenient, this isn't the best way to watch the newest episode of House of Cards.
This is my preferred method of watching TV. You simply visit one of the Chinese website like Youku, PPTV, or Sohu with your regular internet connection (not on your VPN) and browse away. The sites can be a little intimidating if your Chinese isn’t great but many shows can be searched by their English names (or you can download Google Chrome which will automatically translate the pages for you). Because the servers for these sites are located in China, streaming is quick and often without any buffering needed. Each of the sites offers slightly different TV shows, so it is worth bookmarking each of them.
Buy from the DVD Store
Pretty much every recent movie and TV series is available at your local DVD stores. Yes, you will need to wait until the end of the season to watch the whole series, but frankly, I prefer this method. Then I can speed my way through an entire season of Game of Thrones in 3 days and not have to wait weeks to find out what happens next.
Enhanced Cable or Satellite
Enhanced cable is handled right through your regular cable TV provider and will usually offer non-Mainland Chinese shows such as HBO, HK MTV, National Geographic, and a variety of news channels such as CNN, BBC, MSNBC.
I do not have personal experience with this, however, I have heard that you can obtain a satellite dish and a hacked box from a local provider. Usually you buy the dish and the box for a couple thousand RMB and then have access to thousands of TV stations. Sometimes a small annual online subscription enables automatic updates to the hacked box.
Another popular option is Slingbox. Slingbox is a device that connects to your TV and streams the signal to another machine in real time, anywhere in the world. Obviously this is only a solution if you maintain a house with a cable/satellite service back home, or if you have a friend or family member that wouldn’t mind you using theirs.
With all these TV watching options, you have no reason not to be well versed in the latest happenings at Downton Abbey.
DISCLAIMER: I recognize that some of the methods above may be construed as advocating media piracy. To be clear in my position on this, I view the items above simply as tools by which to obtain various television shows and movies. It is your choice whether you want to utilize these methods, I am simply providing you with information regarding how some people access foreign media in China.