RS2: China

Behind the great firewall, China’s internet is thriving – even in rural areas

Meng Jing and Sarah Dai’s article reports on China’s digital divide that has caused the country’s internet penetration rate to settle at “55.8 [percent]” (para. 8). The internet penetration rate, a percentage of the population that uses the internet, illustrates that nearly half of China’s population lacks internet access. These divisions can be attributed to the split in China between urban and rural citizens. While the urban Chinese “see the internet as part of their daily life” (para. 7), rural citizens have only recently begun to obtain access to the internet for use in their lives. In 2015, Beijing revealed its “Internet Plus strategy” (para. 10), which aimed to develop e-commerce and internet banking which later received “strong government support” (para. 10). As a result, China was able to push out changes that allowed an additional “7.93 million people” from rural China to become internet users in 2017 (para. 6). However, this number only represents a small portion of China’s rural areas because there still exist “huge untapped opportunities for the country’s internet companies” (para. 14). While “73 [percent] of China’s urban population” already has consistent internet access (para. 13), large companies like Alibaba and have started “setting up service [centers]” to help balance the numbers (para. 18). These centers aim to advertise their online businesses and train locals to help teach “users who have zero knowledge of online shopping” (para. 18). Although these companies seek profits, as seen in their desired expansion toward countries like “India and Indonesia” (para. 19), their efforts have managed to help some rural areas become familiar with technology and the internet. In fact, the article includes anecdotes from rural residents that reveal how more people may become interested in obtaining internet access. Hu Guizhi, a rural farmer, expresses her satisfaction with the internet through her ability to conveniently send “red packets,” or small gifts of money, to friends and family, and “pay utility bills with just a touch,” showing that the internet can even integrate smoothly into the lives of the more traditional Chinese (para. 2).

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