More than 87 million Chinese were "netizens" by July as China celebrated 10 years of being linked by the Internet to the outside world.
The Internet community in China has already multiplied 140 times in more than six years, soaring to its current level from just 620,000 users in 1997, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC)'s latest report.
The number was at 79.5 million by the end of last year.
China's web savvy population surpassed Japan's by the end of 2002, becoming the second largest in the world after the United States.
Although large in size, the current number represents just 6.6 percent of the country's total population, leaving room for vast growth.
The figures were released by the government-funded CNNIC in its 14th semiannual report, which is believed to be the most authoritative data on the Chinese Internet industry.
The report, made public Tuesday, shows that 36.3 million computers are connected to the Internet, up 17.5 percent from half a year ago. There are almost 626,000 websites, up 32.2 percent compared with the same period last year.
But the report said the digital gulf remains as about 90 percent of the websites are in the more developed provinces.
Beijing, south China's Guangdong Province, east China's Zhejiang Province and Shanghai are the top four for the number of websites, accounting for 56.8 per cent of the total.
In western China, however, many people face cyber difficulties.
The report also said government staffers still love to work in the real world despite mounting calls for e-government services.
Services are still delivered mainly face-to-face or on paper, despite the mushrooming number of governmental websites in recent years.
The survey found that only 5.2 percent of China's government sites are frequently used. Nearly half of the 11,764 governmental sites are simply one-way mirrors and more interactivity is badly needed.
The survey also indicated that most people are using the Web to obtain information, including news, e-books and daily life information.
Interestingly, using the Internet for leisure ranks second among users, higher than study, getting to know friends, research or sending or receiving e-mails.
The centre said there is still a large market in China for 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$1.2) each month.
Not surprisingly, younger people make up the largest group of on-line customers.
People aged 18-24 account for 32.8 percent of users. People in the 25-30 age bracket make up 29.1 percent, and those aged 31-35 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. They are around 30 percent with high school or college education.
Insiders of CNNIC said the many dial-up Internet users may switch in the future, so the perspective of broadband Internet service is promising.
Why some people stayed off-line?
They listed 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 Internet use is too complicated, they are not used to relying on the Internet, they fear web information is false and they worry about computer viruses.
(China Daily July 21, 2004)