I have the personal understanding, the ability to restructure my site so it is appealing to the Chinese audience and enough expat Chinese friends to test the hell out of my startup website.
What I would like to know is, is it worth trying to reach out to China? Please reply if you have had experience launching a site with the Chinese market as your customer or if you have a section of your site that is dedicated to the Chinese market (not just a translated site, but something dedicated to that area).
The biggest problem I can foresee is the site being blocked once it gets a reasonable amount of traffic.
Should I just get someone to register another domain in China and launch the same product under a different domain? I have heard this is not an easy path to go down.
It's a big market. If you understand the market and think you can win share from the competing social websites then it's a lucrative market to be in with enormous growth potential.
Host inside China if you are serious. The usability and cultural elements aside, the biggest issues we've faced with launching a website in China have been more technical hurdles. In order to host your website in China you need to be granted an ICP (Internet Content Provider) licence from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and IT. This is a straightforward process if you have a legal entity in mainland China to do this for you (Hong Kong isn't good enough), but if you are an overseas business it gets tricky. Of course it isn't mandatory to host your website inside China, but if you don't the page response times are going to be awful. In the US and Europe a typical page on our website loads in under 1.5s, in China the same page is between 5 and 10s. And this is using Akamai too.
If your main audience is going to be China, you really want their experience of your site to be fast and slick in order to take market share. Hosting in China will help to keep your site from being blocked by the Great Firewall of China, and you'll get much faster website response times as well.
Hope that helps.
Since your site is a Social website, it will be very hard to control the content.
If you are based in America or almost anywhere not in China, this idea is a lost cause. The Chinese have traditionally killed non-Chinese businesses in China by favoritism and anti-competitive laws.
Not to mention, their Internet is all screwed up with various legal issues and prohibitions.