China's Web population soars to 450M

Faith Merino · December 31, 2010 · Short URL:

The growth continues under China's rigid censorship policies

Despite strict censorship policies, China’s Internet population is now the largest in the world with 450 million users, according to Wang Chen, head of China's State Council Information Office, at a press conference on Thursday.

By the end of November 2010, China’s Internet popularization rate was 33.9%, surpassing the global average of 30%.  Additionally, the growth rate of Chinese netizens is increasing 20.3% annually.  Wang indicated that the numbers are meaningful as they suggest “advanced productivity.”

The Chinese online newspaper People’s Daily Online speaks glowingly of the numbers as an indicator of China’s Internet health:

“The government considers the development of the Internet an important means of promoting national information construction, achieving the scientific development of economic society, improving technological innovation and improving quality of life.”

Miraculously, China’s Internet population has managed to grow despite brutal Web regulation that resulted in the recent arrest and imprisonment of Cheng Jianping, a human rights activist in China.  Cheng went missing on her wedding day and family members later learned that she had been sentenced to one year of re-education in a labor camp for “disturbing social order.”  Her crime consisted of the re-tweeting of a joke her fiancé made about young Chinese nationalists who were destroying Japanese products.  Cheng added “Charge, angry youth!” 

While she was arrested for disturbing social order, human rights activists contend that Cheng was arrested for her well-known human rights work and her public support of renowned human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested last year and sentenced to 11 years in prison.  Liu was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism efforts.

Twitter has been blocked in China since June 2009, as has Facebook, but Chinese consumers who have managed to get their hands on a Kindle 3G (also banned in China) have been able to access Twitter and Facebook through the device’s whispernet technology.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is actively pursuing Facebook’s reinstatement in China, Google made history earlier this year when it withdrew its operations from China following a cyber attack that was believed to come directly from the Chinese government.  An investigation of the attack revealed that the objective was to access the Gmail accounts of several prominent human rights activists in China.  Google had been criticized for some time about its activity in China, where search results were frequently censored. 

Yahoo has also faced criticism for its cooperation with the Chinese government, particularly with regards to Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist who was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison after Yahoo gave the Chinese government his personal information.  While the company admitted to giving up Shi Tao’s information, it maintained that it did so without knowledge of why the government was asking for it.  Evidence has since emerged, however, to indicate that Yahoo was informed that the government was investigating Shi Tao for leaking state documents.

With a growth rate like that of Chinese netizens, it’s little wonder Facebook is trying to work its way into China and Yahoo is trying to keep its footing.  While China’s Internet population is 450 million now, last year it was 338 million, and the year before that it 253 million, which means that in two years, China’s Internet population has nearly doubled.

Banned sites include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube, Wikipedia, BlogSpot, and a whole host of human rights websites like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  Last year, more than 5,300 people were arrested on Internet-related charges in China.

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