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Caught in the Net
Special> Caught in the Net
UPDATED: September 7, 2007 NO.37 SEP.13, 2007
Transforming China
It's a short time for a country with a history of 5,000 years, but those 20 years appear destined to make a major difference to the nation

In 1987, with the support of a scientific research group led by Professor Werner Zorn of Karlsruhe University in Germany, a working group in China built up an email node and successfully sent out an email to Germany on September 20. The email's title was "across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world."

Two decades have passed since that historical day. It's a short time for a country with a history of 5,000 years, but those 20 years appear destined to make a major difference to the nation.

Having gone through many ups and downs, the Internet in China is developing at an astonishing speed. According to the 20th China Internet Development Statistics Report published by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), as of June 30, 2007, there had been 162 million Internet users in China, which ranked the country second in the world next to the United States in terms of Internet population. The report said the Internet had penetrated 12.3 percent of China's total population and over the first half of 2007, every minute would witness an increase of 100 netizens. As telecommunications develop in rural areas, people there will also begin to have access to the Internet, making it possible to narrow the digital divide.

The Internet has and is still transforming society, in different ways and at different levels across the world. In China, the change brought by the Internet is comprehensive and profound.

Above all, the Internet has changed the way information is disseminated and received. The right to know the truth, something that used to be unfamiliar to the Chinese people, has become increasingly popular, helping to foster a more democratic society.

The Internet has also boosted Chinese people's enthusiasm for public participation. New things have mushroomed on the Internet, blogging being one of the fastest growing. There are now around 100 million blogs in China. Information can be easily researched and spread on the Internet via written posts or video broadcasts. In the process, the mainstream media have been to some extent left behind. Moreover, the government's way of dealing with public emergencies has changed dramatically due to the stronger grassroots public voices.

Though it's difficult to use accurate figures and numbers to illustrate how the Internet has contributed to China's economic development, the new economy is transforming China's traditional production and consumption modes. Chinese people have gradually accepted and become more reliant on the Internet to solve their needs. Online shopping and dating are catching on. Even in rural areas where Internet access is not so popular or easy, some farmers have begun to sell their vegetables and fruits online. E-commerce including B2B, B2C is of growing importance to Chinese enterprises.

The Internet has shaped the way people live and think at a more profound level. For the generations born in the 1970s, '80s and '90s in China, the Internet has become something indispensable in their work, entertainment and social activities. It's these generations that have helped to turn China into an information society and speed China's integration into the world.

The Internet brings with it problems, but overall China has been influenced in a positive way by its existence. According to a report on the future development of global entertainment and media by PricewaterhouseCoopers, in 2010 China will overtake the United States to have the largest population of Internet users, and in the next five years the Internet market in China will reach $92.5 billion. As for the longer-term influence the Internet will exert on China, no one can truly know the answer yet.

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