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The Unseen Side of China's Internet Explosion


What China was lacking in technology 30 years ago it has more than made up for as it has leapfrogged traditional communications media to become one of the most connected countries in the world. A generation ago the idea of a personal telephone in one's home was unheard of, unless one's family was particularly privileged. Today, although wired telephones in every home still may not be the norm, personal mobile phones are considered a necessity. Even for migrant workers with no permanent home and very few personal possessions, the mobile phone is a lifeline to family back home and to job opportunities in the city.

China today is home to the largest population of internet users on the planet, topping a half billion in 2012. Along with the dramatic rise in internet usage has also come a corresponding popularity in the use of smartphones to get online. Nearly half of all the smartphones shipped in the first six months of 2012 were shipped within China. For many Chinese, the phone is the preferred means of accessing the web, sending email and texts, and expressing themselves through short messages on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

For all the talk of the "Great Firewall of China," (the elaborate security measures the government has put in place to regulate what is available online), the internet has created a new social space in which Chinese can organize around issues of common concern. Experienced users wanting to sound off on political issues stay one step ahead of government censors by using code words, abbreviations, synonyms, or foreign language equivalents of terms that have been banned by China's internet police.

Of particular notebut often missed in discussions on China's burgeoning cyber universeis the scope and diversity of Christian content originating within China. Literally thousands of sites carrying a plethora of Christian content are being hosted in country. These include individual church sites, both registered and unregistered; online magazines; forums on various topics such as family life or childhood education; Christian publishers; curriculum providers; and several daily online Christian newspapers. Unless these sites post political content, they are generally left undisturbed by authorities. Thousands of other Christian individuals and groups utilize Weibo to carry on conversations, promote or comment on posted material, and announce upcoming activities.

In the words of ChinaSource Senior Associate Joann Pittman, much attention is given to the "invisible birdcage," or the official restrictions used to contain the internet in China. Much more interesting, according to Pittman, is what happens inside the "cage" itself, particularly among China's Christian netizens. In China's Online Christian Community, she takes a closer look at this largely unseen side of China's internet revolution.

Image credit: CNBC

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource.  Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio