China's Internet community has multiplied 128 times in a little more than six years, new statistics show.
There are now about 80 million netizens in the country, a drastic jump from the 620,000 users recorded in 1997, the China Internet Network Information Center's latest report (CNNIC) shows.
The number grew to 79.5 million by the end of December 2003.
About 11.5 million new users were recorded in the second half of last year, a growth higher than the 8.9 million recorded in the first six months of 2003.
China's Internet population surpassed Japan by the end of 2002, jumping to the second in the world following the United States.
Although large in size, the current number is only 6.2 percent of the country's total population.
The figures were released by the government-funded CNNIC in its 13th semiannual report, the most authoritative data on the Chinese Internet industry.
The report shows that 30.9 million computers are connected to the Internet, up 20.1 percent from half a year ago. There are almost 60 million websites, up 25.7 percent.
The domain names with a suffix ".cn," which indicates their Chinese nationality, has grown 35.7 percent to above 34 million.
"This trend shows organizations and Internet users in China have recognized the advantage and value of the domain name," the report says.
Although young people still account for the majority of Internet users, the makeup of the age groups has been changing.
In 1998, 91 percent of all netizens were between the ages of 18 and 30. By the end of last year, that number had dropped to 51.3.
At the same time, the percentage of netizens younger than 18 has grown to 18.8.
Some 14.2 million adults aged older than 35 have joined the army of Internet surfers in the past six months, expanding the group's share to 17.8 percent. This group includes some 3 million senior citizens aged 50 and above.
Students and technicians still make up the main body of the Internet community, respectively accounting for 29.2 and 13.7 percent.
The proportion of male and female Internet users remained at about 3:2 during the past two years.
If the number of people with Internet connections rose, so did the amount of time they spend online.
The average time people spend connected rose to 13.4 hours a week.
Most, 66.1 percent, surf the Internet at home.
But what are all these people doing online?
Surveys conducted by CNNIC show most people are using the Web to obtain information, including news, e-books and daily life information.
It is interesting that using the Internet for leisure ranks second among users, more than study, getting to know friends, research or sending or receiving e-mails.
Shopping online or doing other e-businesses accounted for only 0.4 percent of Internet usage.
Despite the growth, analysts fear the development of information technology and its application is disproportioned across the country.
About one third of the population in Beijing and Shanghai are netizens, but in poorer areas such as Henan, Guizhou and Inner Mongolia, only 3 or 4 percent are online.
The gap between the rich and poor is also reflected in the figures. Farmers, for example, account for less than 0.8 percent of the country's netizen community.
(China Daily January 16, 2004)