China Closes Gap with USA on Home Internet Usage

22 April 2002

China, the former sleeping giant, has climbed another rung up the ladder of global dominance by overtaking Japan as the world’s second largest nation of at-home internet users.

According to the latest survey by Nielsen/NetRatings, 56.6 million Chinese citizens now access the internet from their homes. But this is only the tip of the iceberg: Chinese internet penetration remains at a mere 5.6% of the population with mind-boggling growth potential; whereas in Japan and the USA (still the world leader) penetration stands respectively at 36% and 54%.

Says an awed Hugh Block, Nielsen/NetRatings managing director in North Asia: “It's the second-biggest market in the world. That should be an eye-opener to a lot of people.” And, according to the Chinese information ministry, the numbers are growing at between 5%-6% monthly.

However, the internet is still a largely urban phenomenon in China, where households are smaller. Comments Ted Dean of Beijing information consultancy BDA China: “Penetration numbers are always a little misleading … because of the numbers of people involved. There is obviously a great deal of optimism about this potential,” he adds, while warning that launching a solid internet businesses in the vast nation “is a longer process than many people imagined.”

The NNR survey reveals that China's most popular online activity is reading newspapers or magazines. Forty-one percent of users who have accessed the web in the past six months are 16 years or older, while email is the second most favored pastime at 39%. Commercial usage, however, is still in its infancy with just 6% of surfers engaged in online stock trading and 3% in online purchases.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff