China Web populace growing exponentially

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BEIJING -- Social networking, news and entertainment drew 100 Chinese a minute to the Internet for the first time over the last six months, growth that swelled China's online population to 162 million, up 31.7% from the same period last year.

According to a report released late Wednesday by government think tank China Internet Network Information, most of China's new Internet users go online to chat or seek entertainment rather than look for jobs or conduct business.

Introduced to China's public in 1994, the Internet remains heavily censored by the one-party Communist government.

At its breakneck rate of growth from last year, when China had 137 million Internet users, China will overtake the U.S. as the country with the world's largest Internet population by late 2008, the report said.

There were 211 million Internet users in the U.S. at the end of June.

About 75% of China's Internet users use the Web to read news, followed by 60% hunting for music and videos, the report said. Only 21% use electronic banking services and 3.9% booked tickets on the Web.

China's gravitation toward online entertainment reflects the youth of China's wired population, Wang Enhai, an author of the report, told the state-run China Daily.

"China's Internet market is just emerging, and there are still a lot of things to be done before a mature online business environment can be established," Wang said.

The report says that China's Internet users under the age of 24 number 58 million, or about 35.8% of the country's total online population.

This group uses the Internet for online gaming, listening to and downloading music and video content, much of which is posted without the copyright holder's permission.

"We suggest the government (be) more active in steering away youths from these activities," Wang said.

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