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Internet Becoming Part of Life for Chinese

Lu Li, a 23-year-old working with a foreign firm in east China's Shanghai, has found surfing online indispensable in her daily life since she first accessed to the Internet seven years ago.


"It has unfolded a new chapter in my life," she says, adding that she can hardly imagine living without the Internet.


Lu is one of the new generation emerging in the country in the past ten years, who are learning, entertaining and shopping all electronically. A report released by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) in July indicates that China has 103 million netizens, or Internet users, like Lu Li.


That means one out of 13 Chinese uses the Internet. Ten years ago, there were barely 50,000 Internet accounts throughout China. A survey on some 2,400 people in five Chinese cities show that an average netizen spends 2.73 hours online daily, reading news, sending or receiving emails, playing games, downloading music, gathering background materials or chatting.


Driving force


Mao Wei, director of the CNNIC, hails the country's Internet population of 103 million as "a milestone figure," which represents a 100-time increase in seven years.


In connection, 45.6 million computers across China have been linked to the Internet, a 25.6 percent climb over the previous year.


What's more significant, Mao says, is that broadband users account for half of the figure, standing at 53 million.


"Broadband has made things more convenient to the netizens, with more services available to them," says Wang En'hai, an official with the CNNIC.


A major driving force of the rapid development of the Internet in China in the past decade is the government's promotion. Since its formal integration into the global networks on April 20, 1994, there were "information highway" projects in the late 1990s to bring government departments at various levels to "go online," which made even remote governments on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau accessible to the Internet.


Business is also a driving force. With the construction of four backbone networks from 1994 to 1996, numerous start-ups and portal websites mushroomed. Then, "in the late 1990s, dazzling web-page is a trump for companies to scrabble for netizens," says Huang Chengqing, secretary-general of the Internet Society of China (ISC).


"Now, they give more attention to providing value-added services to the netizens, such as short messages (SMS), Global Positioning System (GPS), e-games and searching engines," Huang says. "It signals a shift from a disorderly proliferation to a more sound and practical development."


Despite some "economic bubbles" at its initial stage, the Internet has promised good returns now. In 2004, Internet-related application services in China generated an earning of 11.3 billion yuan (US$8.11 yuan), of which 35 percent went to the blooming Internet-game industry.


Shanda, the largest Internet-game provider in China, earned US$154 million out of online-game business in 2004, when a dozen Internet companies were listed in the US stock market, signaling the second round of getting listed in the overseas stock markets since 2000. Alibaba, the largest online commerce company in China, received US$82 million worth of capital in February this year.


Prospects of China's Internet market have drawn foreign companies as well.


MSN, a subsidiary of Microsoft, took the lead by setting up a joint venture in Shanghai this year. Such big names as Google, e-Bay, Amazon and Yahoo! are also deploying their expansion programs in China.


"China's Internet industry is embracing a spring," says IT analyst Wang Zhong.


More choices


Internet has enriched the Chinese netizens' life with more choices. For Li Jianlu, a Beijing-based netizen, it saves him the time for shopping. "I love to surf on Dangdang.com to buy books," he says. "It's speedy, and it offers good bargain prices."


In November 2004, more than 72,000 college graduates took part in an online recruiting program in Beijing. In contrast, 31 recruitment fairs organized by the city's education commission throughout the year attracted no more than 40,000 students.


And the Internet is playing an increasingly important role in pushing forward social progress in China, with "profound influence on the life of many Chinese in a comprehensive way," observes Hu Qiheng, president of the ISC, on the 10th anniversary of China's full access to the Internet.


On July 25, a live online broadcast in east China's Zhejiang Province attracted the attention of 100,000-plus netizens, which allowed them for the first time to watch online a session of the standing committee of the provincial people's congress, the local legislature, which is traditionally met behind closed doors.


"By watching live online broadcasting, Chinese citizens are endowed with a chance to participate in the democracy-building process," comments Xia Xueluan, a professor of sociology with Beijing University.


In fact, Zhejiang is not alone to apply the Internet to politics. The Beijing municipal government already launched an online opinion poll in 2003. Logging into www.beijing.gov.cn, local netizens can cast votes on 64 governmental organs under the municipality. In two years' time, more than 140,000 netizens have aired their views on the administrations' effectiveness, transparency and legal awareness. And their votes on issues ranging from whether the city should lift the ban on firecrackers to the area of buffer zone of the Forbidden City as a World Heritage Site has been taken into consideration in policy making.


"Online appraisal has effectively improved the public organs' service standard," observes Prof. Xia.


The Internet helps the administrators to get first-hand opinions from the grassroots, thus making the policy making process more scientific, says Prof. Cheng Weimin of Beijing University.


Even the country's leaders would go online for people's opinions on government work. Before he gave a press conference during a session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in late March, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao accessed to the xinhuanet.com to search for ordinary people's questions for him.


"The development of the Internet in China will not only lead to a transfer of economic activities, but also change people's ideas about the public affairs," says Prof. Min Dahong, an expert on Internet communication with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).


Meanwhile, the Internet has partially given rise to Chinese people's individuality. A vivid example is the prevalence of web-blog writing since 2002.


"The essence of web-blog is to share both information and thoughts," says Fang Xingdong, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bokee, the largest blog website in China, which has more than 2 million registered users.


By writing web-blogs, Fang says, netizens have shifted from "passive receptors" to "active producers."


Li Shanyou, vice president of Sohu, one of the three largest portal sites in China, agrees that the Internet has impelled a "grassroots" spirit.


Although there exists the digital divide, Prof. Xia Xueluan says the Internet "is no longer a privilege enjoyed by a few in China, but a common area everyone can contributes to."


"The Internet has expanded my horizon and deepened my communication with others. In the realm of the Internet, I dream to fly higher," smiles the young Lu Li.


(Xinhua News Agency October 8, 2005)

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