The Internet is changing Chinese life, especially for the young: over 60 percent of Internet users in China are under the age of thirty. With 110 million users in late 2005, that gives China one of the largest under-thirty online groups in the world (roughly 60 percent of whom are men).

Urban youth exploit peer-to-peer file-sharing software that allows them to download and share music and films. China’s leading search engine, Baidu, has an MP3 bar on its home page to make digital music searches as easy as possible. For these young people, their PCs are stereo, television, DVD player, and social networking and instant-messaging tool all in one. QQ instant messaging connects them with friends, and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) such as World of Warcraft or South Korea’s Lineage are hugely popular, with a major presence on television and billboards across the country. Games can sometimes draw up to one million concurrent players. There isn’t much in the way of other media entertainment in China for this age group, and online games and music have the additional advantage of being cheap and easily available.

Young people also use the Internet for pragmatic reasons: the record numbers of high school and college graduates flooding China’s still-emerging labor market have driven an explosion in online job-searching and recruiting sites such as and Educational uses of the Internet, by contrast, appear to be lagging behind, as is often true elsewhere.

Despite the Internet’s popularity, demanding school and extracurricular schedules limit the amount of time China’s teenagers are able to spend online, and Chinese parents monitor their children’s online activities carefully, since one child per family means that the whole family’s future rests on that child’s shoulders. Concerned parents have supported a government-enforced “fatigue system” that removes the incentive for gamers to play after five hours, and in 2005 China’s first Internet addiction center opened at the Beijing Military Clinic.

In China’s so-called “tier-one” cities ( Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), Internet penetration can be as high as 40 percent. Venture beyond these few global cities, and overall urban penetration drops to about 17 percent. In sharp contrast, rural Internet penetration was less than 3 percent at the end of 2005. China’s digital development is also highly concentrated in the coastal areas, leaving China’s western and northern provinces way behind.

Those provinces do have a strong base of mobile phone users, however. It may be that 3G technologies, which enable mobile Internet access, will be more attractive to rural users than to urban ones when they are rolled out in the next five years—and it may be that China’s rural population will leapfrog over PC-based Internet use entirely.

Source: Jeffery, Lyn. (2006). Virtual China: Young China online. Guanxi: The China Letter, 2, 9.