China has been on the Internet intermittently since May 1989 and on a permanent basis since 20 April 1994,[1] although with heavily censored access. In 2008, China became the country with the largest population on the Internet and, as of 2024, has remained so.[2]: 18  As of July 2023, 1.05 billion (73.7% of the country's total population) use internet in China.[3][4]

China's first foray into the global cyberspace was an email (not TCP/IP based and thus technically not internet) sent on 20 September 1987 to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, reading, "Across the Great Wall, towards the rest of the world" (simplified Chinese: 越过长城,走向世界; traditional Chinese: 越過長城,走向世界; pinyin: Yuèguò chángchéng, zǒuxiàng shìjiè).[5][6] This later became a well-known phrase in China and as of 2018, was displayed on the desktop login screen for QQ mail.[7]


Internet penetration rates in China in the context of East Asia and Southeast Asia, 1995–2012

From 1995 to 2004, internet use in China was almost entirely in urban areas.[8]: 3  By 2003, less than 0.2% of rural people had used the internet.[8]: 3  In 2004, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology began the Connecting Every Village Project which promoted the use of telecommunications and internet in rural China. Beginning in late 2009, the program began building rural telecenters each of which had at least one telephone, computer, and internet connectivity.[8]: 37–38  Approximately 90,000 rural telecenters were built by 2011.[8]: 38  By 2011, 89% of administrative villages had internet access.[8]: 3, 24 

China had 618 million internet users by the end of December 2013, a 9.5 percent increase over the year before and a penetration rate of 45.8%.[9] By June 2014, there were 632 million internet users in the country and a penetration rate of 46.9%. The number of users using mobile devices to access the internet overtook those using PCs (83.4% and 80.9%, respectively).[10] China replaced the U.S. in its global leadership in terms of installed telecommunication bandwidth in 2011. By 2014, China hosts more than twice as much national bandwidth potential than the U.S., the historical leader in terms of installed telecommunication bandwidth (China: 29% versus US:13% of the global total).[11] As of March 2017, there are about 700 million Chinese internet users, and many of them have a high-speed internet connection. Most of the users live in urban areas but at least 178 million users reside in rural towns.[12]

China began implementing a National Broadband Strategy in 2013.[8]: 90  The program aimed to increase the speed, quality, and adoption of broadband and 4G networks.[8]: 90  As of 2018, 96% of administrative villages had fiber optic networks and 95% had 4G networks.[8]: 90 

Wireless, especially internet access through a mobile phone, has developed rapidly. The affordability of mobile phones and internet data in China has resulted in the number of mobile internet users in China surpassing the number of computer internet users.[13]: 178  500 million were accessing the internet via cell phones in 2013.[9] The number of dial-up users peaked in 2004 and since then has decreased sharply. [citation needed] Generally statistics on the number of mobile internet users in China show a significant slump in the growth rate between 2008 and 2010, with a small peak in the next two years.[14]

In 2015, the State Council promoted the Internet Plus initiative, a five-year plan to integrate traditional manufacturing and service industries with big data, cloud computing, and Internet of things technology.[15]: 44  The State Council provided support for Internet Plus through policy support in area including cross-border e-commerce and rural e-commerce.[15]: 44  Various regulatory bodies promoted Internet Plus within their sectors.[15]: 44 

In April 2020, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) proposed that "satellite internet" should be a part of new national infrastructure. By the next month, Shanghai, Beijing, Fuzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Shenzhen had each proposed regional action plans to support the new satellite internet constellation project[16] with a goal to provide domestic China satellite internet to rural areas.[17] Beginning in 2019, US (SpaceX Starlink)[18] and UK (OneWeb, 2020)[19][20] private companies had begun fielding large internet satellite constellations with global coverage; however China does not intend to license non-Chinese technical solutions for satellite broadband within the jurisdiction of Chinese law.[21]


An important characteristic of the Chinese internet is that online access routes are owned by the PRC government, and private enterprises and individuals can only rent bandwidth from the state.[22] The first four major national networks, namely CSTNET, ChinaNet, CERNET and CHINAGBN, are the "backbone" of the mainland Chinese internet. Later dominant telecom providers also started to provide internet services. China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile control operate the internet exchange points through which incoming traffic must pass.[23]: 74 

In January 2015, China added seven new access points to the world's internet backbone, adding to the three points that connect through Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.[24][25]

As of at least 2023, the internet in China is characterized by uneven development, with the adoption rate and availability of the internet varying by region and population groups.[8]: 5–7 


Internet café in Lijiang City

The January 2013 China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) report[26] states that 56% of internet users were male, while the remaining 44% were female, and expresses other data based on sixty thousand surveys.

English-language media in China often use the word netizen to refer to Chinese internet users in particular.[27][28]

As of at least 2024, China has the largest number of internet users of any country.[2]: 18  Consistent with the trends of other large and relatively linguistically isolated countries, Chinese internet users tend to focus their internet use on content that that is domestically relevant.[23]: 74–75 


The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is the primary agency for data regulation.[15]: 30  It coordinates enforcement among relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the State Administration for Market Regulation.[15]: 30  The Ministry of Public Security has the primary responsibility for preventing cyberattacks.[15]: 143 

Regulatory priorities

In 2009, China amended its Criminal Law to create a low threshold for the prosecution of malicious cybercrimes and illegal data sales.[15]: 131 

Generally, China advocates for internet sovereignty and tends to prioritize cybersecurity more than personal data protection.[15]: 121  Chinese policymakers became increasingly concerned about the risk of cyberattacks following the 2010s global surveillance disclosures by Edward Snowden, which demonstrated extensive United States intelligence activities in China.[15]: 129  As part of its response, the Communist Party in 2014 formed the Cybersecurity and Information Leading Group.[15]: 129, 250 

The 2017 Cyber Security Law was also part of China's response to increased risks of foreign surveillance and foreign data collection following the United States surveillance disclosures.[15]: 250  Among other provisions, the law has significant data localization requirements.[15]: 250  It is a major pillar of the Chinese data regulatory environment.[15]: 131 

Before the 2020-2021 Xi Jinping administration reform spree, the regulatory environment for internet companies was relatively lax because the government sought to encourage the development of the big data economy.[15]: 121  The regulatory environment for tech companies subsequently became stricter and in 2021, two national data laws and a host of regulatory guidelines were promulgated, broadening the scope of government enforcement and increasing the penalties for personal data violations.[15]: 122 

The 2021 Data Security Law classifies data into different categories and establishes corresponding levels of protection.[15]: 131  It imposes significant data localization requirements, in a response to the extraterritorial reach of the United States CLOUD Act or similar foreign laws.[15]: 250–251 

The 2021 Personal Information Protection Law is China's first comprehensive law on personal data rights and is modeled after the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation.[15]: 131 

In summer 2021, MIIT began a six-month long regulatory campaign to address a variety of consumer protection and unfair competition issues, including interoperability concerns, in the consumer internet sector.[15]: 114  It held meetings with executives from major Chinese tech companies and instructed them that their companies could no longer block external links to competitors.[15]: 114 

In 2022, the CAC issued measures and guidelines on security assessments for cross-border data transfers as part of an effort to institutionalize data transfer review mechanisms.[15]: 251 


According to Kaiser Kuo, the internet in China is largely used for entertainment purposes, being referred to as the "entertainment superhighway". However, it also serves as the first public forum for Chinese citizens to freely exchange their ideas.[29] Most users go online to read news, to search for information, and to check their email. They also go to BBS or web forums, find music or videos, or download files.


As of at least 2023, the most used internet services in China are instant messaging and mobile messaging apps.[8]: 8  In 2020, 99% of internet users in China used instant messaging, while 99.8% used mobile messaging apps.[8]: 8 

As of 2019, 93.5% of Chinese internet users have used WeChat.[8]: 76 

Content providers

Chinese-language infotainment web portals such as Tencent,, Sohu, and are popular. For example, Sina claimed[when?] it has about 94.8 million registered users and more than 10 million active ones engaged in their fee-based services. Other Internet service providers such as the human resource service provider 51job and the electronic commerce web sites such as are less popular but more successful on their specialty.[citation needed] Their success led some of them to make IPOs.

All websites that operate in China with their own domain name must have an ICP license from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Because the PRC government blocks many foreign websites, many homegrown copycats of foreign websites have appeared.[30]

Search engines

Top ten most popular search sites in China
As of 17 September 2013
By Unique visitors aged 15+, excludes traffic from public computers such as internet cafes or mobile phones
Source: comScore qSearch[31][32]
China Share of searches (%)
Baidu 63.16
360 18.23
Sogou 10.35
Soso 3.62
Google 2.88
Bing 0.57
Yahoo 0.48
Youdao 0.16
other 0.09

Baidu is the leading search engine in China, while most web portals also provide search opportunities like Bing, Sogou.

Online communities

Although the Chinese write fewer emails,[clarification needed] they enjoy other online communication tools. Users form their communities based on different interests. Bulletin boards on portals or elsewhere, chat rooms, instant messaging groups, blogs are very active, while photo-sharing and social networking sites are growing rapidly. Some Wikis such as the Sogou Baike and Baidu Baike are "flourishing".

Microblogs (weibo) have since 2009 become one of the most widely used internet services in China.[8]: 146 

Social media

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China is one of the most restricted countries in the world in terms of internet, but these constraints have directly contributed to the staggering success of local Chinese social media sites. The Chinese government makes it impossible for foreign companies to enter the Chinese social media network. Without access to the majority of social media platforms used elsewhere in the world, the Chinese have created their own networks but with more users – which is why every global company pays attention to these sites. Some Chinese famous social medias are Sina Weibo, QQ, Qzone, Renren, Zorpia, and Douban. And in recent years, the use of WeChat has become more and more popular among people in China.[citation needed]

Online shopping

The rapidly increasing number of Internet users in China has also generated a large online shopping base in the country. A large number of Chinese internet users have even been branded as having an "online shopping addiction" as a result of the growth of the industry.[citation needed] According to, Chinese consumers with Internet access spend an average of RMB10,000 online annually.[33]

Online Mapping Services

China has endeavored to offer a number of online mapping services and allows the dissemination of geographic information within the country. Tencent Maps (腾讯地图), Baidu Maps (百度地圖) and Tianditu (天地圖) are typical examples. Online mapping services can be understood as online cartography backed up by a geographic information system (GIS). GIS was originally a tool for cartographers, geographers and other types of specialists to store, manage, present and analyze spatial data. In bringing GIS online, the Web has made these tools available to a much wider audience.[34] Furthermore, with the advent of broadband, utilizing GIS has become much faster and easier. Increasingly, non-specialist members of the public can access, look up and make use of geographic information for their own purposes.[35] Tianditu is China's first online mapping service. Literally World Map, Tianditu was launched in late October 2010. The Chinese government has repeatedly claimed[citation needed] that this service is to offer comprehensive geographical data for Chinese users to learn more about the world.

Online payment

The method of directly paying by online banking is required to be able to make online banking payment after opening online banking and can realize online payment of UnionPay, WeChat Pay, online payment by credit card, and so on.

This payment method is directly paid from the bank card. The third-party payment itself integrates multiple payment methods, and the process is as follows:[citation needed]

1. Recharge the money in online banking to a third-party.

2. Pay by third-party deposit when the user pays.

3. The fee is charged for withdrawal. Third-party payment methods are diverse, including mobile payments and fixed-line payments.

In 2013, Alipay overtook PayPal to become the world's largest mobile payment provider.[8]: 150  As of January 2015, Alipay, owned by Alibaba Group has 600 million counts of users and has the largest user group among all online-payment providers.[36] It continues to be China's largest online payment service as of at least 2023.[8]: 150  WeChat Pay remains a strong competitor to Alipay, with 37% of the Chinese mobile payment market as of 2016.[8]: 151 

Online gaming

Main article: Online gaming in China

As of 2009, China is the largest market for online games.[37] The country has 368 million internet users playing online games[10] and the industry was worth US$13.5 billion in 2013. 73% of gamers are male, 27% are female.[38]

In 2007, the Ministry of Culture (MoC) and General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) along with several other agencies implemented the Online Game Anti-Addiction System which aimed to stop video game addiction in youth. This system restricted minors from playing more than 3 hours a day and required Identification (ID) checking in order to verify you are of age.[39]

Later in 2019, the Chinese government announced in November that gamers under the age of 18 would be banned from playing video games between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. In addition, gamers under 18 would be restricted to 90 minutes of playing during the weekdays and 3 hours of playing during weekends and holidays as per new guidelines.[40]

As of 2021, the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) further restricted rules limiting playtime for under-18s to one hour per day from 8p.m. to 9 p.m. and only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.[41]

Adult content

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Although restrictions on political information remain strong, several sexually oriented blogs began appearing in early 2004. Women using the web aliases Muzi Mei (木子美) and Zhuying Qingtong (竹影青瞳) wrote online diaries of their sex lives and became minor celebrities. This was widely reported and criticized in mainland Chinese news media, and several of these bloggers' sites have since been blocked, and remain so to this day. This coincided with an artistic nude photography fad (including a self-published book by dancer Tang Jiali) and the appearance of pictures of minimally clad women or even topless photos in a few Chinese newspapers, magazines and on several websites. Many dating and "adult chat" sites, both Chinese and foreign, have been blocked, although some continue to be accessible.


Main articles: Internet censorship in China and Internet censorship

The Golden Shield Project was proposed to the State Council by Premier Zhu Rongji in 1993. It is overseen by the Ministry of Public Security.[15]: 143  As a massive surveillance and content control system, it was launched in November 2000, and became known as the Great Firewall of China. The governmental authorities not only block website content but also monitor the Internet access of individuals; such measures have attracted the nickname The Great Firewall of China.[42]

However, there are some methods of circumventing the censorship by using proxy servers outside the firewall.[43] Users may circumvent all of the censorship and monitoring of the Great Firewall if they have a secure VPN or SSH connection method to a computer outside mainland China.[44]

In 2017, the Chinese government declared unauthorized VPN services illegal, requiring VPN providers to obtain state approval.[45] Although China restricts VPNs, they remain widely used by private individuals.[46]: 109  State-owned enterprises or state institutions also use VPNs for official work.[46]: 109  The Chinese government has authorized several official VPN providers.[46]: 109  Those who develop or sell their own VPNs potentially face years in prison.[46]: 109 

Different methods are used to block certain websites or pages including DNS poisoning, blocking access to IPs, analyzing and filtering URLs, inspecting filter packets and resetting connections.[47]

By blocking major international internet platforms such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the Great Firewall has contributed to the development of domestic alternatives including Baidu, Renren, Youku, and Weibo.[8]: 8 


The Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures, initially a humorous hoax, became a popular and widespread internet meme in China.[48][49] These ten hoaxes reportedly originated in response to increasing online censorship and have become an icon of Chinese internet users' resistance to it.[50][51]

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued a directive on 30 March 2009 to highlight 31 categories of content prohibited online, including violence, pornography and content which may "incite ethnic discrimination or undermine social stability". Many Chinese internet users believe the instruction follows the official embarrassment over the "Grass Mud Horse" and the "River Crab". Industry observers believe that the move was designed to stop the spread of parodies or other comments on politically sensitive issues in the runup to the anniversary of the 4 June Tiananmen Square protests.[52]

Internet advertising market

The size of China's online advertising market was RMB 3.3 billion in the third quarter 2008, up 19.1% compared with the previous quarter. Tencent, Inc, Sina Corp remain the Top 3 in terms of market share. Keyword advertising market size reached RMB 1.46 billion, accounting for 43.8% of the total Internet advertising market with a quarter-on-quarter growth rate of 19.3%, while that of the online advertising site amounted to RMB 1.70 billion, accounting for 50.7% of the total, up 18.9% compared with the second quarter.[53]

Currently, Baidu has launched the CPA platform, and Sina Corp has launched an advertising scheme for intelligent investment. The moves indicate a market trend of effective advertising with low cost. Online advertisements of automobiles, real estate and finance will keep growing rapidly in the future.[53]

See also


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