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Insight on China's 20 years of internet


04-19-2014 04:50 BJT

Some two decades ago, China was introduced to something very novel. It’s called the Internet. It’s now become an indispensable part of the nation's economy and an intregral part of many Chinese people's daily life. Nowadays just about everything can be done online: shop for clothes, food, an apartment, even a mate. The internet has also created a new level of public discourse and given citizens opportunities to supervise the government. For more on the evolution of the Internet in China, we are joined in the studio by my colleague Wu Haojun.

Q1: Twenty years really isn't all that long. Yet Chinese society has been fundementally transformed by the internet. Tell us more about the history of internet in this country.

A: It has really been an amazing ride for Chinese people over the past 2 decades... thanks to this fascinating thing called the internet. The nation’s first contact with the internet was not exactly 20 years ago, it dates back even further. In September 1987 two Chinese scientists built up an email node in the country and successfully sent out an Email to Germany. The first ever Email from China was titled "Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world." Then years later, on April 20th, 1994, China achieved its first full-function connection to the Internet via facilities based in the US. From then on, there was just no stopping it. In 1996, the first Internet Cafes in China opened in the city of Shanghai. Around the same time, China’s first privately-run Internet companies, Sina, Sohu and Netease, got funding and opened for business. And more than a decade later, in 2008, China surpassed the US as the world’s top user of the Internet, with 298 million web surfers. These dates and numbers offer only a snapshot of how the Internet has transformed China, now let’s take a look at this report to see how people’s lives have changed because of the Internet.

Q2: Well, we're all more or less like Mr. Wong in that the internet has certainly changed our lives for better or worse. Now, commercially, with billions and billions of dollars on the line, what’s the competition like here in China?

A: Well, there are so much going on on the internet nowadays. You've got online shopping, internet banking, and matchmaking of course. You might think it's difficult to track who's who and who’s doing what in the internet industry. But when you drill down you find a term that keeps turning up that pretty much gives a good picture of the competition in China. BAT or B-A-T is short for the names of the three giants of China's internet. There's Baidu, the dominant search engine; Alibaba, which controls 80 per cent of China's e-commerce, and Tencent, the gaming and social media juggernaut. It used to be that each of these companies had a distinct sphere of operation, but now as can you see from this tangled web here, they are snapping up stakes in smaller firms, expanding far beyond their core areas of search, e-commerce, gaming and messaging to compete on each other’s turf and in fast-developing areas such as maps, video and travel. The competition we're seeing in China’s internet industry today, is something we've never before seen in the country.

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