Female members of China's online community have crossed 57.1 million - equal to the total population of the United Kingdom - some 41.7 percent of all those surfing the Internet in the nation.
Portals from home and abroad are vying to attract women, as their demands for information and services over the Internet are more extensive and diverse than male online users.
"They use it for their work or business and in their personal lives, for themselves and their families, for both information and shopping," says Zhang Danping, editor-in-chief with Lady Channel at the Web portal 163.com.
To better understand female Internet preferences, the Chinese portal worked with the Huakun Women's Survey Center associated with the All-China Women's Federation in an online survey from March to April that received 40,734 responses nationwide.
The survey found that depictions of women as subordinate to men, or as sex objects or as the "third person" between couples is the most disliked aspect of the Web, with 42.5 percent of the respondents believing such depictions cause injury and humiliation to women.
They also dislike media stereotypes of women with sexy images and those that judge women based only on their appearances.
Feng Jianmin, a respondent to the survey and a freelance writer for travel columns on many portals, says that there are numerous so-called "true stories" online about domestic violence, rape, love and affairs that make her uncomfortable.
"Such content spreads a distorted image of women to please men," says Rong Weiyi, an expert on gender studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a consultant to the survey.
Media reports often emphasize a sensational angle in reporting tragic stories concerning women, instead of finding a solution to root out social injustice, she says.
The survey also found that independence, self-worth and intelligence are the top-three qualities sought by respondents, most of whom were 20 to 30 years old and have college degrees. Stories about the success of women are their favorites.
Another study, by Hong Kong-based Internet survey house Iamasia, shows that women pay great attention to online health and fashion information.
"They find information on fitness, beauty, medical care and fashion on the Internet and exchange ideas," says the report. "That is more convenient for them, as most female Internet users are 20 to 40 years old and in busy work."
It also found that women are more interested in entertainment news while men pay attention to politics, business and sports.
In addition to their preferred content, female netizens are more enthusiastic about online shopping than men.
"Online shopping opens another window for women who are sometimes hindered by limitations on times and places," says Lu Bowang, an analyst with China IntelliConsulting Corp.
A survey by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) suggests that female Internet users are the key force in the consumer-to-consumer business. The survey cites the example of Taobao.com, on which the majority of both buyers and sellers are women who prefer commodities such as cosmetics, clothes and jewelry.
"If every woman who buy goods online spends only 100 yuan in a year, the annual transaction values would reach 5.71 billion yuan," says Lu.
Feng says that she has opened a shop on Taobao.com to sell small souvenirs and jewelry she collected from around the world while traveling.
"The business is just so-so, but I enjoy the fun of sharing something I like with people who have the same interests," she says.
Feng is also a frequent buyer of outdoor goods, apparel and cosmetics. In addition to her own needs, she often buys healthcare products for her parents.
"It's more economical than purchasing them in stores, as the prices online are lower because there are no store rental costs," she admits.
CNNIC's research showed that the number of online female Internet users is increasing faster than male users.
(China Daily August 15, 2007)