Rapid growth of Internet in China changes information flow for everyone

Posted December 9, 2015


The rapid growth of Chinese Internet shapes the way information spreads in China.

Compared with the western world, Chinese Internet started relatively late. It was not until 1980s that Chinese government started paying attention to a new type of technology, computers for business purposes, and emphasized the significance of “catching up the third technological revolution.” The third technological revolution refers to the Internet.

“When I finished my Master’s degree in Tsinghua University and came to University of California, Los Angeles for Ph.D. in 2011, the difference between United States and China in terms of computer engineering exists, but not huge,” said Jie Xu, an assistant professor in College of Engineering at University of Miami. “The popularity of the Internet and social media here were just the same in China.”

From the China Education and Research Network, China sent its first email titled “Crossing the Great Wall to join the world,” marking the beginning of the use of Internet by Chinese. Since then, China started its rapid Internet growth.

In the beginning of the 21st Century, Internet started influencing China first in entertainment. Young people stayed in Internet Cafe to play online games. Photo by Junyan Chen

In the beginning of the 21st Century, Internet started influencing China first in entertainment. Young people stayed in Internet Cafe to play online games (Photo by Junyan Chen).

China has been the fastest growing Internet country since 2008, with average 63 million people beginning to use online services annually.

Compared with around 280 million active online users in United States, China surpassed it by doubling that figure for online users.

While people in United States commonly associate the Internet with the icons of Google, Chrome, posts from Facebook, new feeds in Snapchat and shopping on Amazon, China is presenting another picture of online activities with other Internet portals.

Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) are three leading internet forces for different aspects in China and are already bigger in terms of users than anything in the United States. According to Internet Telecommunication Union, a recent survey it conducted with the United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India and Work Bank in July 2014 proved that China had more than 641 million Internet users and was ranked as the first in terms of growth speed and total amount of Internet users.

Baidu is the most popular search engine. According to Marketing China, up to 2013, Baidu owned 64.5 percent of all Chinese users and its edge was obvious, compared with its closest competitor, Qihoo 360, held of 10.2 percent of users.

Baidu also exerted its online muscle internationally. The company first launched its Brazilian version of the search engine, Baidu Busca in Brazil on July 18, 2014, and later that year on Oct. 9, Baidu announced acquisition of Brazilian local e-commerce site Peixe Urbano, according to Reuters and Paul Bischoff’s article in Tech in Asia.

Different from Amazon enjoying the dominance of online shopping in United States, It is Alibaba owns the largest e-commerce enterprise in China, Taobao and the most frequently used online payment, Alipay. In January 2015, Alipay announced that it had 600 million counts of users and owned the largest user group among all online-payment providers, according to News China.

On Single’s Day in China, which is Nov. 11, young Chinese celebrate the fact of being single by shopping online. In one day, Alibaba created sales in Alibaba’s sites Tmall and Taobao at US$5.8 billion in 2013, US$9.3 billion in 2014, and over US$14.3 billion in 2015, from Tech in Asia and Reuters.

“Even in United States, I purchase stuff online using Taobao,” said Hui Shi, a finance junior at University of Miami. “It is sometimes cheaper than the same items on Amazon. Also, Amazon will not provide as many Chinese goods that I need as Taobao.”

Lately, Alibaba expanded rapidly by acquiring or investing many other Internet companies. Cited from CNN, Alibaba acquired the Chinese mobile internet firm UCWeb, a minority stake in the Chinese smartphone maker Meizu, and online streaming giant Youku Tudou.

“Alibaba wants to have more powerful influences in many other Internet aspects “said Michael Zhang, senior film director at Youku Tudou, talking about Alibaba acquiring Youku Tudou, the biggest online video site in China, in November, 2015. “Compared with Amazon, Alibaba is not satisfied with being just a retailer shopping site.”

Tencent is the social media tycoon in China. With its products WeChat and QQ become the most prevalent social apps in China. According to The Next Web, WeChat is the most heated social app in China, with 400 million active users and 600 million registered worldwide.

“I don’t really use Facebook that much,” said Jianyuan Zhai, a senior majoring in chemical engineering at University of Wisconsin at Madison. “When I am in United States, I keep touch with my families and friends via WeChat. When I back to China, those close friends at school whom I want to keep in touch with will sign up for a WeChat account so we can talk. I don’t really Facebook that much, even though I have access to it.”

Talking about Facebook and Chinese Internet, people will think about government censorship. Chinese have many accesses to online forum to research for information and contact with people around the world, nevertheless, they still do not have the access to Facebook and Google. Also, many political sensitive information are filtered out by government regulation.

Chinese government blocks the Facebook, Google and Youtube. Other than that, it also strictly regulates many political issues.Up to now, Chinese people will find nothing on website including information of “Tiananmen Square Incident” or “June 4”. Photo by Thomasu Kutty

Chinese government blocks Facebook, Google and YouTube. Other than that, it also strictly regulates many political issues. Up to now, Chinese people will find nothing on websites about Tiananmen Square”  or “June 4” (Photo by Thomasu Kutty).

“From my experience, government only imposes regulations on political issues. From my personal understanding, government regulates the online content according to its habit of regulating traditional media content to keep the information consistent, uniform and official,” said Cong Li, assistant professor of Strategic Communication at University of Miami, who worked as a news anchor in Shanghai for four years and is familiar with how the Chinese regulation system works. “Although people like us definitely want to have broader choices of information and different voices.”

Liao Shuang, a computer science professor at Sichuan International Studies University, China, expressed his opinion on the government regulation that more and more Chinese Internet users use VPNs to access to all information that can be filtered out by the government’ surveillance, screening and blocking.

When asked about whether the definition of “catching up the third technological revolution” is precise, Xu said “China caught up with the third technological revolution in terms of users, but has not led it.”

According to Xu, Chinese government once enacted a 3G protocol, TD-SCDMA, and asked China Mobile, a state-run telecommunications company to apply the protocol to its 3G service. China hoped the protocol would be set up as international 3G standard and thus became competitive in 3G empire. Unfortunately, the protocol lasted only few days and was abandoned due to customers’ complaints of its slow download speed. China still uses European or American telecommunication protocol to provide services to its users.

Some people expressed their optimism towards Internet in China.

“China is doing great, considering it went from zero in Internet to a huge internet using country in 25 years,” Li said.