A Tangle in China's World Wide Web

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China/st1 :country-region>'s Internet has gotten a lot of attention in the last few weeks, though much of it seems a bit contradictory.  Although China/st1 :country-region> has more Internet users than ever, restrictions on online content are becoming increasingly stringent./span>

The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) just published its semiannual report, indicating that there are 298 million Internet users in China/st1 :country-region>.  While the urban areas still have more online users than many of those outside the cities, usage in the countryside increased more than 60% last year, versus 35% growth in the cities. /span>

Even though the number of Internet users is so high, considering the entire population in China there's still a lot of room to grow, since over a billion people in China/st1 :country-region> are still without the Internet.  Of course, given these growth rates, and judging by the number of Chinese cell phones, it's only a matter of time before the bulk of China/st1 :country-region>'s population is online./span>

In the midst of these reports of China/st1 :country-region>'s growing number of Internet users are other reports of the Chinese government cracking down on material online.  The government has already closed down 91 websites that contained either pornography or more generically "vulgar" content./span>

Some critics maintain that some of the targeted sites were closed because of political, rather than pornographic reasons.  Some posters on the site bullog.cn, in particular, also were involved with "Charter 08," a document that demanded human rights for Chinese citizens.  According to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, over one hundred signers out of the more than 7,200 who have signed the charter have been harassed by police./span>

With the rapid growth rates of Internet users, the extra crackdown on certain websites or individuals doesn't seem to be deterring anyone from logging on.  Furthermore, the vast percentage of China/st1 :country-region>’s web users doesn’t really have a political agenda; they just want to chat with their friends, read the latest celebrity gossip, or surf the web./span>

At the same time, if the Chinese authorities continue to crack down on objectionable online content, they could definitely experience a backlash.  /span>

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