China’s internet penetration is far less (29%) than the US (74%), but the total number of users, 384 million, has far exceeded that of the US, 228 million. Although people tend to use the web for pretty much the same purposes everywhere in the world, the web experience in China in many respect would be quite different than in the US.
The top uses for the web in China, according to the 25th internet survey report (http://down3.tech.sina.com.cn/fdl/doc/cnnicrep25-201001.doc), are for online music (84% of users), news (80%), search engines (73%), instant messaging (71%), online games (69%), online videos (63%), blogs (58%), and emails (57%). Compare this with the top uses in the US according to data from Pew Research (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0921862.html), which are emails (91%), search engines (88%), map/directions (86%), research hobby/interest (82%), research product/service (80%), weather (79%), health information (74%), news (72%), and travel information (72%). This contrast is already very interesting. Chinese don’t use emails as much as Americans. Instead they use instant messaging far more often. Americans tend to use the web to help with their entertainment, using it to research their hobby related topics or to gather information for their next trip. For Chinese, on the other hand, the web is the entertainment. A vast majority of them listen to online music, watch online videos, and play online games. Americans also use online business far more extensively than Chinese.
Although online music and video are leading uses of the web, Chinese cannot watch youtube because it is blocked by the GFW, the Great Fire Wall of China. Also blocked are the most popular social network website facebook, as well as twitter and flickr. The government never announces nor it gives a reason for blocking a website. That makes it hard to tell the difference between network outage and blocked sites. Recently after the Yushu earthquake, in most of China it is impossible to access the USGS website usgs.gov. The earthquake was determined to be 7.1 in China but USGS rated it as 6.9. Rumors then started flying on Chinese internet that the USGS website was blocked because the Chinese government did not want people to know that the earthquake was really only 6.9. Why? Because the buildings that collapses were supposed to be able to withstand 7.0 earthquakes. This is a very good example that the GFW does more damage to the Chinese government than its intended benefits.
Speaking of censorship, one of the most commonly used phrases on the Chinese net nowadays is “sensitive word.” In China, it is common practice for the administrator of a web server to install a software that automatically filters out offensive words in any web postings. Perhaps this is even required. It is not clear what algorithm such a filtering software employs but the results are often hilarious. For example, Beijing Normal University posted an ad for graduate school applications on a website. The first requirement was that all applicants must support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. The only problem was, that the phrase “Communist Party” was filtered and replaced by “sensitive word filtered”. So the requirement became “all applicants must support the leadership of Chinese sensitive word filtered.” I did not make this up. You can check the link for yourself here:
http://kaoyan.studyez.com/news/18185.htm if you can read Chinese.
Censorship also leads to other kinds of bizarre results. One thing is what we call “chopped head and tail”(掐头去尾). It works like this. Suppose you want to say “students expect the teacher to teach.” But the word “sex” is not allowed on the web, and the filtering software detects the word in your sentence. Where? Oh by combining the tail of one word and the head of another. And it gets filtered. So the sentence becomes “student sensitive word filtered pect the teacher to teach.” Of course in actual Chinese it would be some other words but the effect would be equally bizarre and one is often left wondering what on earth was the original phrase that was filtered.