China Surpasses 500M People Online as Government Tightens Control on Internet

By: Qichen Zhang on 20 January 2012
Posted in China, Asia

The China Internet Network Information Center recently released a report stating that the number of Internet users in the country has officially soared to 513 million. Although the number makes China the country with the greatest number of people online, 60% of Chinese citizens still do not have access to the Internet.

This news raises persisting questions about whether the Chinese Communist Party can continue its rigid censorship practices amidst the large population who now communicate regularly on the Internet. As an explicitly proclaimed model to other states (India, for one) seeking to censor and monitor Internet content, China has one of the most sophisticated and thorough systems of Internet regulation in the world, many argue. And the fact that more people are using the Internet probably won't automatically increase freedom and openness. The severe government controls on the Internet have some wondering whether the economic implications will stop the explosive expansion of Internet usage in the country. The Wall Street Journal emphasized that with the increasing regulation of online content and activity, Chinese Internet companies are concerned about stagnant growth. Although Sina and Tencent are investing heavily into their microblogging platforms, user growth has slowed down considerably from 2010. ZDNet Asia claimed that microblogging usage will depend heavily on whether or not the government decides to go through with its "real-name rule" that would require all Weibo users to register with identification.

And it isn't just domestic companies who are suffering under the regulatory strain of Internet censorship. Google's long history of battling the Chinese government about search results has diluted its market potential in the country. However, the company is still trying to adapt to China's strong censorship practices. According to Forbes, Google is renewing its efforts to expand in the country and hiring more employees to provide services that "will fall under the country’s censorship radar."

Internet users aren't completely under the grips of the CCP's hand, however. Many report that Chinese netizens are sophisticated bypassers of the Great Firewall and other regulatory implementations. For example, during the controversy of the fatal train crash in July, a Weibo user supposedly broke the news to the public, news that the government had sought to brush under the rug. As 2012 sees an increasing number of Chinese citizens online, it will be interesting to see how the government fares against the growing online population as well as criticism of their censorship practices.