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Chinese Turn to Internet for Entertainment and Connecting With Others, as Number of Broadband Connections Increase in China

New Survey in Mainland China Paints a Detailed Picture of Which People are Using the Internet in China and Why
November 17, 2005

NEW YORK, NY—The ways in which the Chinese internet users utilize and think about the Internet are described in a public opinion survey of Internet use in China. Among the estimated 103 million Internet users in China*, nearly half are now using broadband connections, an increase from 41% in 2003. As a result, Chinese Internet users at home and in offices are spending more time on line each day than they did just two years ago. Moreover, Chinese Internet users prefer using forms of "instant messaging" more than email, and they are relying on the internet more frequently than in the past to make contact with others who share the same professions, hobbies, and political interests.

The survey, the only major public opinion survey tracking Internet use in China, has been ongoing since 2000. The survey, a rare Chinese public opinion poll using a rigorous methodology, found that large majorities of Chinese believe that certain kinds of Web content, including pornography and violence, should be controlled. However, only 7.6% believe that political content on the Internet should be controlled. According to the survey, few Chinese Internet users are aware of government web sites, despite the government's increasing investment in such projects. Many Chinese believe that the Internet will increase political transparency, 48% percent of Internet users believe that by going on line the Chinese will learn more about politics, and 60% of users believe the Internet will provide more opportunities for criticizing the government.

The survey found that early adopters of the Internet in China are younger than 30, employed, single, live in urban areas, and have higher than average levels of income and education. University professors, other educators, and college graduates are using the Internet heavily. Eighty-five percent of the content which Chinese Internet users explore originates in China. At present, Internet users make up only eight percent of the population of mainland China, indicating there is still much room for growth in the use of the Internet in China, according to the survey

Chinese use the Internet to seek either entertainment or information about entertainment, as well as to communicate with like-minded people on line. Chinese Internet users indicate that they go on line for news more than for anything else, but that much of the news they seek is related to entertainment.

"In China, to date the Internet has become an "entertainment and communication highway," but not an "information highway," said Professor Guo Liang of the Research Center for Social Development of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences of Beijing, who conducts the survey with the support of the Markle Foundation, a New York-based philanthropy which focuses on information technology." Mainland Chinese use the Internet more for entertainment and chatting than for seeking information or news or for working or studying," added Professor Guo at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, where he released the English-language version "Surveying Internet Usage and Impact in Five Chinese Cities" this morning.

"The Internet is profoundly transforming China's economy and society," said Jeffrey Bader, director of The Brookings Institution China Initiative. "Guo Liang is one of the foremost experts in China, both on the technical aspects of the Internet's operation and on its impact on Chinese life. We are delighted to have him come to Brookings to present the findings of his study."

The survey also tracked the kinds of information Chinese seek on the Internet, and how much they trust such information. While 83.5% of Internet users seek information on the web, the majority of that information pertains to entertainment, not traditional news. Only 48% of users believe that Internet content is reliable, and majorities of Chinese believe that certain kinds of content on the web should be controlled, including the following categories of information: pornography (84.7%) violence (72.6%), and "junk messages" or spam (51.9%).

Among other findings, Professor Guo and his colleagues identified the following:

  • Eighty percent of the surveyed individuals younger than 24 years of age use the Internet, and 60% to 80% of those 25-29 higher are on line.
  • More than 77% of single people are on line.
  • Even in large cities, Internet users make up less than 50% of the population.
  • Only 35.5% of Internet users have more than five years of Internet experience.
  • Nearly 90% of interviewees with a college degree use the Internet, compared with just 15% of interviewees with a middle-school education or less.
  • Nearly 90% of university faculty and more than 81% of other educators use the Internet.
  • Internet users prefer instant messaging tools for communication over e-mail.
  • Only 9.5% of Internet users use government sites, and only 3.5% do so frequently.
  • More than 75% of Internet users have never made a purchase on line.
  • The average Chinese Internet user stays on line for 2.7 hours each day.

Click here to download the full survey. (PDF, 1.9 MB)

Methodology
The survey, conducted in February and March 2005, was based on door-to-door household interviews in five cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Changsha. The sample size was 2,376, including 1,169 Internet users and 1,207 who do not use the Internet. A Probability Proportional to Size (PPS) sampling method was used to choose households on a random basis in each city, and a KISH form was used to choose interviewees randomly in each household. This longitudinal survey has tracked Internet use in China since 2000, resulting in two previous reports in 2001 and 2003.

About the Markle Foundation
Emerging information and communication technologies possess enormous potential to improve people's lives. The Markle Foundation works to realize this potential by accelerating the use of these technologies to address critical public needs, particularly in the areas of health and national security. For more information, see www.markle.org.

About the Center for Social Development, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing
The Center conducts studies of social trends and issues in China, and it is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a public think tank.

About The Brookings Institution China Initiative
The China Initiative serves as a home for scholarship, programs, and public policy discussion on China, focusing on areas in which China has special challenges or problems. These areas include energy policy, political and economic reform, urban development, and public health. The Initiative explores the dynamics of China's transformation and emergence as a political and economic power and the implications for the United States, China, the East Asian region, and the world.

* According to a 2005 survey by China Internet Network Information Center (www.CNNIC.CN), more than 103 million Chinese are now using the Internet.



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