I spent a few years in different cities in China. Here's my take: in order to balance speed and access, you really only want to tunnel/proxy/vpn what you absolutely have to. Most sites aren't going to be blocked so using something like FoxyProxy is pretty essential. If you'll have VPN access, set up rules so that just the traffic that needs to go through the VPN (plus DNS) is getting tunneled.
Also, multiple workarounds for access is important too: you could very well get stuck somewhere where everything but ports 80, 443 are blocked, ruling out your ssh tunnel (unless you've thoughtfully set your ssh server to listen on a different port) and having a web proxy might save the day. Or one proxy goes down, get blocked, is too slow, etc.
I personally used a combination of ssh tunnels, web proxies, a paid VPN service and Tor.
Also, note that the great firewall isn't just a blacklist. It also performs packet inspection for keywords/phrases before issuing TCP resets to both parties, so your proxies definitely should be SSL enabled, even if it's just with a self-signed cert.