Bone up on your Mandarin

This morning’s Observer column

First, the numbers. China has 137 million users (compared with about 190 million in the US), but the online population is increasing at such a rate that in about two years there will be more Chinese than Americans on the net.

Within China, however, there’s a deep digital divide: Chinese users are overwhelmingly urban, young and male. A third are students, while a further third are business users. The deepest divide is the urban vs rural one; internet penetration among city dwellers is 20 per cent, compared with only 3 per cent for rural districts. (The comparable US figures are 70 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.)

Given that China’s rulers see the net as a critical enabler of development, a key policy issue for the regime is how to bridge the urban/rural gap. Fallows cites research suggesting that the two big obstacles are lack of connectivity and a huge skills deficiency…