Changing China transforms Internet landscape [China Daily: Hong Kong Edition]
(China Daily: Hong Kong Edition Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) BEIJING - Twenty years after the world's most populous country gained access to the Internet, China has been fundamentally and irreversibly changed, but not in the way some Western prophets had expected.
Instead of bringing collapse, the Internet in China is becoming more commercially robust and innovative despite the unique Chinese way of management.
As the Internet reshapes China, China is also changing the online landscape through its rising Internet firms, brand-new products and the world's largest web population of 618 million.
On April 20, 1994, a pilot network to serve education and scientific research was linked to the Internet via a special line in Beijing's Zhongguancun, now China's technology hub, marking the country's first fully functional Internet access.
At the time, the only way for most Chinese to learn of South Africa's newly elected black president and the construction of China's massive Three Gorges hydraulic project was by reading the next day's state-run newspaper.
Recalling his first days online, Liu Ren, a Beijing-based journalist, said few Chinese were in cyberspace in the late 1990s.
"I would be overjoyed to receive an email, even if it was a spam mail at that time," said the reporter renowned for his keen observation of China's IT industry. "But today, the Internet has been changing everyone's lives, sometimes even against their will."
Older cab drivers are consulting their children to learn how to use taxi apps for additional tips from potential customers.
"Never did I think that one day my work would have anything to do with the Internet," said Lao Liu, a 54-year-old taxi driver in central China's Wuhan City. "The apps bring me an additional income of 50 yuan (8 U.S. dollars) every day."
Mobile Internet is changing the entrenched habits of Chinese people like Lao Liu, including how they read, buy things, and manage money.
Yu'ebao, a popular online wealth management product, has raised around 500 billion yuan in less than a year, helping boost the funds available for China's real economy, instead of raising financing costs.
In March, China vowed to promote the healthy development of its burgeoning Internet finance, giving products like Yu'ebao promising prospects.
The growing population of Internet users has also made online opinions too important to be ignored by officials.
The transformative power of the Internet has challenged top-down communication patterns in China by supporting multi-level and multi-directional flows of communication, changing the country's political landscape.
Several Chinese officials have been probed after online whistleblowers accused them of corruption, the latest being Song Lin, chairman of state corporation China Resources (Holdings).
China's Internet has become an accessible yet decentralized platform for the public to discuss public affairs and breaking events, said Wang Sixin, professor of law with the Communication University of China.
The rising prominence of China is one of the most important developments shaping the Internet.
Behind China's Internet boom is Beijing's unique way of management. China has long been dedicated to developing the Internet, but it has also underscored the rule of law to ensure Internet security, which Chinese President Xi Jinping said is a concern for the country's security and development.
Xi became head of China's central Internet security and informatization leading group in February, revealing the country's resolve to build itself into a strong cyber power.
This way of Internet management, itself a Chinese innovation, has not stifled the creativity of the Internet as some had predicted. Innovative Internet products and services are significantly changing the landscape of the Internet.
At least six of the world's 10 largest social networks in 2013 were developed by Chinese Internet firms, according to a report from U.S. business and technology news website Business Insider. China-based social networking apps such as WeChat and Sina Weibo have achieved significant scale.
Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, debuted this month on the Nasdaq exchange with a 19.1 percent jump, bringing the company 287 million U.S. dollars.
The success of the microblogging service, which official figures say over 500 million are using, highlighted the innovation-driven development of China's Internet companies.
Weibo may have imitated Twitter at first, but it adapted and improved by constantly introducing new functions to maintain a high number of active users.
"More Chinese Internet companies will be going abroad like Weibo did," said Fang Xingdong, founder of Blogchina.com and an IT columnist. "The year of 2014 will mark the beginning of the global strategy of China's Internet."
In 2013, China's online retail market expanded to over 1.8 trillion yuan, almost the size of Malaysia's GDP that year.
"We have built up the Chinese people's trust in online transactions," said Jack Ma, founder of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba.
China will become "more open, more transparent, more willing to share" in the next two decades because of the Internet, he said.
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