Chinese flock to Internet, despite government censors

Internet usage in China saw a dramatic surge in 2008. Some 298 million Chinese logged on, a 41.9 percent jump over the previous year.

While most of these Internet users live in cities, the largest gains came from the countryside, according to a report from the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC). The rural Internet population climbed to 84.6 million, 60.8 percent higher than in 2007.

China has held the world's largest Web-connected population for about a year now, with a number that approaches that of the total US population. This huge push online has opened up cultural life (as long as you avoid politics), and, in some cases, even led to so-called Internet addiction.

"China's Internet penetration rate is still low, with just 22.6 percent of its population online, leaving more room for rapid growth," reports the AP. "The Pew Internet and American Life Project places US online penetration at 71 percent."

Boom in mobile web

The number of Chinese surfing from cellphones more than doubled in 2008, to 117.6 million people. CINIC notes that last week China's government OK'd 3G service, the speedy mobile connection enjoyed by new smart phones in the United States. While the 3G networks will take time to build, these could further accelerate China's mobile Web statistics.

The BBC reports that three Chinese phone operators plan to have wide 3G networks by 2011.

The government's ever-watchful eye

With more citizens racing online, Beijing is pushing for increasingly sophisticated tools to monitor public opinion. The Financial Times writes that:

China's government is stepping up Internet scrutiny by equipping its web censors with more advanced software that allows them to spot risks of subversion much earlier and root it out more efficiently, according to the country's Internet security market leader.
The revelation from Beijing TRS Information Technology, China's leading provider of search technology and text mining solutions, that it is thriving on the government's desire to better "manage" public opinion, comes as the political leadership is facing growing challenges, mostly voiced through the Internet.
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