HONG KONG (01/28/2000) - The number of Mainland Internet users grew rapidly during 1999 to reach 8.9 million, according to a biannual survey by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) released last week. In addition to providing a tally of Mainland Internet users, the report also detailed Internet demographic information and usage patterns.
The 8.9 million Mainland Internet users, representing just 0.75 percent of the country's population, reported in the survey is more than double the number recorded in the previous CNNIC survey conducted during July 1999. In the January 1999 survey, the number of Chinese Internet users was set at 2.1 million.
However, not everyone believes the CNNIC numbers are accurate.
Lane Leskela, GartnerGroup Asia-Pacific's principal e-business analyst, cast doubt on CNNIC's methodology, which counts multiple users that share a single account. Since counting these multiple users is highly speculative, observers should take a more conservative approach when making their estimates, said Leskala, adding that the total number of Mainland Internet users is likely to be just slightly more than 7 million rather than 8.9 million.
"In a developed market, the total number of users tends to equal that of the registered accounts," Leskala said. "It's very difficult to estimate the extra (users that may share an existing Internet account). Two million (additional users, as reported by CNNIC,) seems too much."
However, Leskela agreed that the number of Mainland Internet users is growing rapidly. He predicted that by the end of this year, the number of Chinese Internet users will reach 15 million.
In addition to rapid growth, the CNNIC survey recorded a subtle shift in the demographics of Chinese Internet users.
User profiles in the CNNIC survey showed that although male users still dominate the total number (79 percent) of Chinese Internet users, the number of female users has risen from 15 percent to 21 percent compared to data reported in the July 1999 survey.
Spending an average of 17 hours a week on the Internet, most Chinese users fall into the 18-to-24 age group (42.8 percent), followed by the 25-to-30 (32.8 percent) age group. The under-16 age group makes up 2.4 percent of the total.
Most Mainland Internet users are highly educated: 45 percent are university graduates. In addition, the majority of Chinese Internet users are located in the most prominent markets, such as Beijing (21.2 percent), Shanghai (11.2 percent), and Guangdong (12.9 percent).
Although the number of users has grown considerably, their spending power is still limited. About 36 percent of users have a monthly per capita income between 1,001 renminbi (US$121) and 2,000 renminbi (US$241) and 29 percent of users earn between 501 renminbi (US$61) and 1,000 renminbi (US$121) per month.
Fewer than 10 percent of users make more than 4,000 renminbi (US$483) per month.
Most respondents to the CNNIC survey said they use the Internet for e-mail, downloading and uploading software, research, and chatting online. The types of content most sought by Mainland Internet users include general news, information technology information, and entertainment.
Despite the growing popularity of the Internet in China, respondents once again complained about slow access speeds (53 percent), high access fees (34.3 percent) and the lack of Chinese-language information on the Web (7.4 percent).
On the e-commerce front, only 9 percent of individual users made a purchase over the Web in 1999; for organizational users, the figure is just 3 percent.
Among all respondents, the primary obstacles for online shopping include a lack of guarantees on the quality of products or services (36.5 percent), security (27.6 percent), and finding a convenient payment method (17.7 percent).
In addition to studying the habits of Mainland Internet users, the CNNIC survey also ranks the most popular Web sites in China.
In this survey, the most popular Web site in China is Sina.com, topping the list for the second time. High-flying China.com is No. 8 on the list, taking a position in the top ten for the first time.
Top ten most popular sites in China