Guest Post: The Who, What and Where of Chinese Internet Users

The following is a guest post by Tait Lawton, an English-Chinese translator and founder of Nanjing Marketing Group. Sometimes it is easy to forget the worldwide scope of the web, so we asked Tait to give an overview of the internet in China, and give some insights to this massive, growing segment of web users.

Chinese is now the second largest language on the internet in terms of users, and it’s growing rapidly. But who’s using the internet in China, how do they access it and what are they using it for? I’ll try to briefly answer that question by focusing on the ways that Chinese internet users differ from North American users.

Who’s Using the Internet in China?

There are 338 million internet users in China based on the latest report*. Even though that’s greater than the number of citizens of USA, it is still only a 25% penetration rate. Internet usage continues to spread rapidly in China. Every 6 months, China is now adding 40 million users. For comparison, that’s greater than the total population of Canada.

Compared to their North American counterparts, the average Chinese internet user is younger and earns less money. A third of them are between the age of 10-19 and almost another third are between the age of 20-29. Only about 15% are 40 or over. About 72% report an income of under 2000 Yuan per month, which is a little under $300 USD. However, it’s important to note that with at least a third of Chinese internet users being students, these income numbers are deceptively small. Although students have a lower income, with the one-child policy these “little emperors” receive a disproportionate amount of the family income.

Where do they Use the Internet?

Besides at home and at the office, with respective usage rates of 80% and 26%, Chinese internet users make greater use of mobile devices and internet cafes.

Mobile phones are ubiquitous in China. Service is cheap and the variety of phones available is incredible. Almost half of Chinese internet users access the internet via mobile phone. This is mostly for messaging, but search and music downloading are common as well.

One-third of Chinese internet users access the internet from an internet café or “wangba” as they are called in Chinese. The typical wangba has anywhere from 30 to 200 computers. Young, mostly male, customers fill the room with smoke as they play hours and hours of video games like World of Warcraft, chat with friends on QQ and other messengers, listen to domestic and foreign music, and watch videos on China’s versions of YouTube. At just a few Renminbi (perhaps $0.50) per hour, the service is cheap.

What are They Doing Online?

Compared to North Americans, Chinese internet users are more focused on entertainment, communication and information. Usage rates for online games and online videos are over 60%, while the usage rate for music downloads has reached 85%. Usage rates for news, messaging, blogging and SNS are also quite high. Popular websites include Baidu (like Google), Renren and Kaixin (like Facebook) and Tudou (like YouTube).

Usage of online shopping, online payment and business applications has lagged but is now picking up pace. The usage rate of online shopping is still only about 26%. Taobao (like eBay) and AliPay (like PayPal) have gone a long way to push e-commerce in China. Even with so much room to grow, AliPay has already reported that they have 200 million registered users, replacing PayPal as the world’s number 1 payment system in terms of users.

Statistics are based on the official “Statistical Survey Report on Internet Development in China” published by the Chinese government on June 30, 2009.