China Online Population Reaches 450 Million

The world's largest Internet population grew over 20% in 2010.

BEIJING – China is home to 450 million Internet users as of Nov. 30, still the world's largest Internet population, a senior government official said this week, noting that the nation’s user base has grown 20.3% from the same period a year ago.

Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, said Thursday that around 33.9% of China’s people now are online, more than the world average of 30%.

Since China's public was allowed to connect to the Internet in 1994, its expansion has been the fastest in the world despite strict intervention by the government to dictate what’s allowed in the Chinese web space.

Focused on entertainment – not pricklier politics, news or religion -- online video sharing and gaming companies such as Youku and Shanda have turned their market-leading status serving so large a pool of Chinese web surfers into overseas share listings worth many millions. 

Last month, Youku’s New York Stock Exchange debut saw the Beijing-based company’s shares more than double in value, making it the best U.S. stock market IPO since Chinese search engine Baidu more than quadrupled on its first day of trading in August 2005.

China’s leading online portal, Sina, posted an 87% jump in profits in the third quarter of this year and industry data shows the nation’s overall online market pulled down advertising revenues of 7.64 billion yuan ($1.16 billion) in the same period.

Amid all this growth, all Chinese Internet companies must work closely with media regulators in Beijing to keep the Chinese Internet space unthreatening to the government and in synch with its view of a “Harmonious Society,” which means no open discourse about topics the government considers sensitive such as Tibet or jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Wang said that despite the government’s best efforts at countering the negatives of life online, China is “haunted by online pornography, hacking, viruses and online fraud,” according the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

By the end of November, authorities in China had shut down more than 60,000 pornographic websites, arresting 4,965 suspects, Wang said, adding that of the suspects, 1,332 were sentenced and 58 were jailed for five years or more.