The internet in China: Alternative reality

China will soon boast more internet users than any other country. But usage patterns inside China are different from those elsewhereOne of the more striking end-of-year statistics pumped out recently by the Chinese government was an update on the number of internet users in the country, which had reached 210m. It is a staggering figure, up by more than 50% on the previous year and more than three times the number for India, the emerging Asian giant with which China is most often compared. Within a few months, according to Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, China will have more internet users than America, the current leader. And because the proportion of the population using the internet is so low, at just 16%, rapid growth is likely to continue for some time.That such a big, increasingly wealthy and technologically adept country has embraced the internet is no surprise, but it has done so in a very different way from other countries. That is in large part the result of the government’s historically repressive approach towards information and entertainment. News is censored, television is controlled by the state, and bookshops and cinemas, shuttered during the Cultural Revolution, are still scarce.

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