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Caught in the Net
Special> Caught in the Net
UPDATED: September 7, 2007 NO.37 SEP.13, 2007
Caught in the Net
In the two decades since the Internet came to China it has had a profound and positive impact on peoples' lives and the economy, but its darker side has also begun to surface

In December 27, 2006, an earthquake near Taiwan snapped six underwater Internet cables and left a large part of Asia, particularly the northeast, struggling for an Internet fix. In Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland, access was mostly limited to local sites. Users were unable to log onto MSN and Yahoo! Messenger, and email services of Microsoft and Yahoo! became unavailable.

That was a black day for many people depending on messengers and emails to work. According to a survey by one of China's portals, Sina.com, later that day, over 90 percent of 70,000 survey respondents said the Internet accident had seriously affected their life and work.

"What do you call this kind of man like me, who does not want to eat when hungry and does not drink water when thirsty, as long as I'm surfing on the Internet: a netizen or a superman?" wrote a Chinese blogger nicknamed BloodBrood from Hubei Province.

"I spend dozens of hours every day sitting in front of the computer and having no idea what I am doing: clicking on one website after another, one post after another. Days just go by like that," the blogger lamented about his everyday life with the Internet around.

His words were an indication of just how far the Internet has come--and how its existence is taken for granted by a generation of young Chinese, who are the savviest of the tech-savvy, as likely to demand a speedy broadband connection as to download music onto an iPod, or upload digital photos to their blogs.

In China, before the middle 1980s, today's Internet activity was far beyond people's imagination. It was not until 1987, when China successfully sent out its first email to Germany, that the world's most populous country stepped into the Internet era.

Since then the Internet has shaped the way people work, relax and even date. It's created a different notion of community for them and new avenues for expression that are, at best, liberating and fun.

"Today's youth are continuously connected to other students and friends and families in ways that older generations never would have imagined," said Sun Yunxiao, Deputy Chief of the Chinese Youth Research Center.

Another revolution

In 1973, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a research program to develop communication protocols, which would allow networked computers to communicate transparently across multiple, linked packet networks. This was called the Internetting project and the system of networks which emerged from the research was known as the "Internet."

That "Internet," since its birth, has influenced the world at an unprecedented level, and has had an impact on people's lives some would say is more profound even than the Industrial Revolution. Even in a developing county like China people do not seem to be left behind in harnessing the power of the Internet to communicate, to learn, to entertain and to create.

To the 162 million Chinese Internet users like Jason Shan, the Internet has become part of their daily life and work, and something they can't do without.

"I can't imagine what my life would be like without the Internet," said a Chinese netizen under the Internet ID Zjbbi, who in real life is a university teacher in Beijing. "I rely heavily on the Internet," he confessed.

He traced his first encounter with the amazing technology to 2000 when he was still a high school student. "It was just like I'd discovered another secret world right in front of me," he said, describing his excitement when he saw for the first time that one of his friends was chatting with a foreigner in a Yahoo chatroom.

Shortly after that he learned the simple skill of browsing Web pages. When he went to college, he began to use QQ (one of the domestic instant messengers) frequently. After graduation, he stayed in the school and became a teacher. "Everyday I access the Internet to browse professional websites, watch the news and write emails. I have found that the television has become useless to me already," he noted.

The new business mode

The huge quantity of netizens constitutes a base for the existence of many profit-seeking websites including advertisements, games, mobile phone value-added services and membership fee-charging sites.

"Information, communication, entertainment and trade, these are four basic needs for human beings. For the business trade, the Internet provides not only high efficiency but also diversified ways for the seller and buyer to connect by integrating multiple communicating methods," said Liu Zhiping, President of Tencent, a leading provider of Internet and mobile telecommunications services in China.

China is riding a wave of consumerism, part of which is undoubtedly fuelled by the Internet. One website helping people to trade online is called Taobao, a China-specific consumer marketplace owned by Alibaba, which competes with eBay.

"It's all about friends getting together and shopping. China went from no consumer electronic commerce to being crazy about it in just few years," noted Porter Erisman, a spokesman for Taobao.com.

Internet advertisements, attracting users with diverse services and contents, have become the main source of income for Internet service providers. After years of development, Internet advertisements now appear on almost all Web pages in multiple forms including: static, dynamic, video and audio.

According to the Internet Guide 2007, a report released this January by the Internet Society of China (ISC), China's Internet advertising volume will total 7.56 billion yuan in 2007, an increase of 51.8 percent over 2006's 4.98 billion yuan, and it is expected to hit 11.7 billion yuan in 2008.

"The Internet's influence on the economy in China has just started, and the next decade will be the real golden years," said Wang Juntao, President of the e-commerce site 6688.com, at a recent China Entrepreneur Summit in Shenzhen.

So far Internet use across China stands at around 20 percent, said Wang, adding that when its use has spread to remote rural areas it will have an even more profound effect on society and the economy.

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