The largest internet market in the world, by a huge margin
There are now over 500 million internet users in China. In fact, there were 505 million at the end of November last year, so the number is even bigger now.This puts the country firmly at the top as the biggest internet market in the world. The US, the second biggest internet market, is half the Chinese one, at 270 million users earlier in 2011.
While the absolute number is impressive, the growth so far and the potential for growth are even more impressive.
More and more people are coming online in China and, with over half a billion people using the internet, penetration is still only 37.7 percent.
That's compared to internet penetration that is approaching or beyond 80 percent in the US or in China's neighbours Japan and South Korea.
But internet usage grew by 3.4 percent points in the last year alone. The ceiling for internet penetration in China, at least in the short- to mid-term is hard to pin down.
China could have one billion internet users in less than a decade, more likely in less than five years, especially as smartphones start to spread faster than PCs, as they are in China like everywhere else.
Just three years ago, China had 221 million users. By 2009, it hit 298 million. Last year, it broke through the 400 million users mark.
Even as web usage explodes in China, the government is looking not to lose its control over it. The latest phenomenon in China is microblogging. Inspired by Twitter, which is blocked in the country, several local services have sprung up to fill the gap.
Microblogging has seen a surge in activity. There are now 300 million users, up from 195 million six months ago. But China is having none of it and is working on requiring all users to identify themselves by their real names.