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The Chinese Internet–by the Numbers

I began working in China in the 1980s, long before the advent of the internet. A letter home took two weeks (at least). An international phone call cost $3.00/minute if I had the time and patience to sit in a dark and dingy telephone office for hours waiting for the call to go through. Sometimes it did; sometimes it didn’t. There was no communication with the home office of my organization by phone; we just sent letters back and forth.

Fax machines appeared on the scene in the 1990s and they seemed magical, even though I had to bike to the nearest hotel to send and receive them. I would get a phone call (at all hours of the night) and a young lady would say “长白山宾馆,有你的传真.” This is the Changbaishan Hotel; you have a fax.” Off I went, no matter the weather, which was often below zero Fahrenheit!  

By the second half of the 1990s the internet had arrived. It was slow (dial-up, of course), but the excitement of the whizzing and screeching as I was connected to the outside world was almost too much. A letter could be composed, sent, and delivered almost instantly! To be sure, there were limitations. I hardly knew anyone else who had an email address, for one thing. Security concerns meant lots of rules and guidelines in communicating with our office in the US. The “world-wide web” wasn’t operational yet, so we couldn’t really use the internet to access information.

At that time, access for Chinese people was limited to those in government and academia. The laobaixing (ordinary people) didn’t have computers or phones, so obviously did not have access.

As they say, “my how things have changed.” Today, Chinese people are connected (the Great Firewall notwithstanding), both to each other and to the outside world–on a scale that is staggering!

Recently China Internet Watch produced a white paper on the Chinese Internet, titled “China Internet Statistics 2017.” The information and charts are based on the semi-annual report published in December 2016 by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

Here are ten key stats:

  • 731 million—total number of internet users
  • 53.2%—internet penetration rate
  • 95%—percentage of users who access via smart phone
  • 60.1%— percentage of users who access via desktop
  • 36%— percentage of users who access by laptops
  • 695 million—mobile internet users
  • 74%—internet penetration rates in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong. 
  • 201 million—number of internet users in rural areas
  • 469 million—number of internet users who make mobile online payments
  • 3 trillion—the combined market value of Alibaba and Tencent, China’s two biggest e-commerce platforms

Check it out; it’s definitely worth a read.

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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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