More than 87 million Chinese "netizens" are celebrating the country's tenth anniversary of being linked to the Internet this July.
The Internet community in China has multiplied by a factor of 140 in the past few years, soaring to its current level from just 620,000 users in 1997, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC)'s latest report, issued Tuesday. CNNIC are considered the most authoritative in the industry.
The number was 79.5 million at the end of last year.
The web-savvy population of China outstripped that of Japan by the end of 2002, making it the second largest in the world after the United States.
Still, the current number represents just 6.6 percent of the country's total population, leaving more than ample room for growth.
The report shows that 36.3 million computers are connected to the Internet, a rise of 17.5 percent from half a year ago. There are almost 626,000 websites, up 32.2 percent.
But an east-west digital divide remains, as about 90 percent of the websites are based in the more developed coastal provinces. Beijing, south China's Guangdong Province and east China's Zhejiang Province and Shanghai are the top four for the number of website enterprises, accounting for 56.8 percent of the total.
The report also said government staffers still prefer to work in the real world despite mounting calls for e-government services. Most services are delivered face-to-face or on paper, despite the mushrooming number of government websites in recent years.
Only 5.2 percent of China's government sites are frequently used. Nearly half of the 11,764 sites are simply one-way information sites and more interactivity is badly needed.
CNNIC's survey of Internet user preferences indicated that most people use the web to obtain information, including news, e-books and useful information for daily life.
Interestingly, using the Internet for leisure ranks second, higher than study, meeting friends, research or e-mail.
There is still ample room for growth in Internet information and broadband services.
Average users send more than 10 pieces of information by the Internet each week and a majority -- about 58 percent -- spends less than 10 yuan (US$1.20) each month.
Not surprisingly, younger people make up the largest group of customers. People aged 18 to 24 account for 32.8 percent of users. Those in the 25-to-30 age bracket make up 29.1 percent and those aged 31 to 35 account for 15.8 percent, while those above age of 35 make up 16.6 percent.
Most broadband users are male technicians, staff in companies or administrative departments, or employees in tertiary industries and the commercial sector. Around 30 percent have high school or college education.
Many dial-up Internet users are expected to switch to broadband in the future.
Those who have so far stayed offline list such reasons as a busy work schedule, little knowledge of the Internet, the inconvenience of logging on and a lack of safety connected to e-mail messages.
Other reasons include the belief that Internet use is too complicated, being unaccustomed to relying on the Internet, fear that web information is false and concerns about computer viruses.
(China Daily July 21, 2004)