The Explosive Growth of China's Internet 1
by Aether in

Last Updated on November 19, 2018 by Aether

How did China’s internet grow from almost nothing to the largest user base in the world?

A recent report that was released by the China Internet Network Information Center showed that China’s Internet user base reached 731 million in December 2016. This is almost 43 million more than the year before. This number accounts for 53.2% of the whole of China’s population and has been rising at roughly 6.2% annually for the past few years.

The report also showed that approximately 695 million internet users accessed the internet using their smartphone in 2016. This is a growth rate of over 10% for the third year in a row. Smartphone internet was accountable for 95.1% of all internet users, which was a 5% increase when compared to 2015.

Amazingly, the report shows that 201 million of these users were from rural areas, which is 27% of the total internet population. It’s deemed that the high availability of smartphones is the primary reason for the significant growth of internet users and that poverty is the reason why the overall population percentage hasn’t increased even faster.

Despite these numbers, the report also explained that the majority of internet users remained reasonably concerned about issues with cyber security. Only 20% stated that they think that the internet is safe, whereas over 70% has said that they have experienced security threats personally and that they are genuinely concerned about internet fraud.

Online trading for stocks, as well as online shopping, have seen a massive growth increase in China and is one of the most interesting habit trends that we have seen. It seems that approximately 60% of internet users are using the internet for e-commerce and to complete online payments, and those who partake in the online stock market make up 9%.

Online banking, travel bookings and online video registrations have seen an increased user growth of nearly 20%. One area that saw a substantial decrease in user base, are online Internet forums. These were once incredibly popular in China, but with the fast rise of mobile instant messaging platforms and social media websites, these forums have now been overshadowed. In 2015, it was reported that only 17% of the whole of China’s internet user base accessed online forums.

It’s also worth mentioning that while China promotes internet use for business and educational needs, they make a strong effort to block access to any material that they feel is obscene or subversive. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, although there is still a strong social media presence in China, due to the WeChat network. They state that they only block websites that are pornographic, superstitious, violence-related, or of a gambling nature, but it appears that they will block the majority of search engine websites and journalism websites. Political and social media censorship have been well documented over the last couple of years, and with recent Chinese laws, it only looks to be reinforced even harder.

Rise of the mobile

Mobile devices have taken China by storm, where 95.1% of all internet users in the country used a mobile device in 2016 to access the internet. The Chinese internet expanded by 6.2% in 2016, which gained it 43 million additional internet users. This is the equivalent to the whole population of Ukraine and puts the total internet user base for china at approximately 731 million. This massive rise is likely the result of the ever dropping smartphone prices, as well as China’s increased efforts at providing mobile internet options across the whole country.

Mobile apps play a vital role in the smartphone market revolution of China, where Baidu and Tencent have developed the most popular applications. While these two tech giants are relatively ahead, many other companies are not too far behind. As can be expected, browsing the internet (although fairly censored), communicating with friends and family, watching videos and listening to music are the most common activities for Chinese smartphone users.

What’s worth mentioning, though, is that there isn’t a single non-Chinese created app in the top 10 app list. In fact, they didn’t even make the top 50. The highest rated foreign app in China is actually the mobile Google Chrome browser.

Here are some of the most popular apps:

WeChat – This app is certainly the undisputed leader for the mobile app genre in China. The user base for WeChat has surpassed 700 million, with no indication of it slowing down. This app is developed by Tencent, which is one of the largest Chinese tech firms.

QQ – Another popular messaging app, QQ was the messaging service of choice before the invention of WeChat. It is still the most popular communication device on desktop PCs, though, and most Chinese people will utilize both communication apps, rather than just sticking to one.

Taobao – This app is one of the most popular ways to do online shopping, and is used by millions for their purchasing needs.

UC Browser – This mobile browser is developed by UCWeb and has claimed to have over 500 million users in 2014, where the majority were Chinese. It is still one of the most popular browsers in China to date.

QQ Browser – The second most popular browser, is the QQ Browser. The application downloads for this app have been leveraged via the original QQ app.

Tencent Video – Predominantly used for watching TV series and game shows, Tencent Video is the video platform of choice for most Chinese mobile users.

Sogou Mobile Input – This app, which can be used with Android or iOS, allows users to choose between dozens of different color keyboards, with hundreds of emoji and sticker variations, which are very popular in China.

360 Mobile Security – As we have previously spoken in part one, internet security is a big concern in China. This app works as an antivirus and can be used for memory management, although it is most popular with Android devices. The desktop version is one of the most popular free antivirus software packages available in China.


Aether has been playing World of Warcraft since 2006. In his youth he raided 7 days a week, but now just plays with friends doing Mythic dungeons and Arena. He swaps his main more often than he should.
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