China Internet users top half a billion, many more to go

The number of Internet users in China is growing rapidly, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. However, the country's penetration rate is still at just 37.7 percent.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

China's Internet user tally is growing by tens of millions of people every year, the China Internet Network Information Center has revealed.

According to Reuters, which obtained a report from the organization and published its results today, China had 505 million Internet users at the end of the November 2011--a figure that exceeds the entire populations of many countries, including the U.S.

What's more, there's nothing but room for that number to grow. According to the Information Center, China's Internet penetration rate is just 37.7 percent. To put that figure into perspective, over two years ago, U.S. Internet penetration stood at 75 percent. Web penetration in Japan and South Korea is more than 70 percent right now.

China's penetration has been growing rapidly over the last several years. In 2008, the company hit 221 million Internet users, and followed that up with 298 million users in January 2009. Between 2008 and now, the country has added about 70 million Internet users each year.

But just because more Chinese citizens are getting on the Internet, it doesn't mean they're having the best experience. The country has for years censored the Web to quell unrest, safeguard against threats to the ruling party, and penalize companies it has had disagreements with.

The U.S. and other Western countries have called on China to stop its Web censorship, but time and again, the government has rebuffed those requests, saying its activities are designed to "safeguard the public."

"We are willing to work with countries and communicate with them on the development of the Internet and to work together to promote the sound development of the Internet," China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told Reuters and other reporters at a press conference last year. "But we do not accept using the excuse of 'Internet freedom' to interfere in other countries' internal practices."

Yu's comments followed an editorial from the country's state-run media organization Xinhua last year, saying the growth of blogs and microblogging services was contributing to the Web's troubles.

"The rapid advance of this flood has also brought 'mud and sand'--the spread of rumors--and to nurture a healthy Internet, we must thoroughly eradicate the soil in which rumors grow," Xinhua wrote. "Concocting rumors is itself a social malady, and the spread of rumors across the Internet presents a massive social threat."

Despite the country's attempts to block or hamper microblogs (last month, for example, Beijing's city government announced new rules requiring microbloggers to register their real names) Chinese citizens continue to put up the blogs. According to the latest data from the China Information Center, more than 300 million people were using microblogs at the end of November. That figure stood at just 195 million last June.