CDF Conference: Richard Baum: “Internet Development in China”

Richard Baum, UCLA Center for Chinese Studies
In 1978, there were 600 mainframe and microcomputers in China, all based on Soviet design. Eight years later, in 1986, he wrote the first article about computing in China for a social journal. To give people an idea of how fast the Internet has exploded in China, he reviewed his comments from the 1986 article.

-Computer boutiques were selling 16bit comptuers
-computer dating service in Beijing
-students playing video games (flight simulator, space invaders)
-6,000 computer units solds annually
-by 1985, 100,000 computers in China
-about one-third had been made in China
-aver. selling price $15,000 USD
-the cheapest, locally cloned model was $400 USD
-no networked computers
-Beijing and Shanghai owned about 40% of computers and 50% computer operators

One consequence of this explosion was the lack of technical support, user guides, or parts. So half of those computers became “expensive paper weights.” How times have changed.

Political implications of the Internet were unclear. Christopher Evans claimed that the flow of information would erode China’s closed society. The pessimistic view (Eric Hoffman) argued that computerization would not change the Soviet or Chinese societies because the new technologies would be folded into existing channels of information flow.

One leading theory had it that “once 20% of the population had telephones” a monopoly on information could not stand. Obviously, that’s not been the case.

Today, Baum is running an organization called Chinapol(?) that helps academics/journalists/government officials process information coming out of the China. He thinks the organization has also improved the reporting on China and helped on a number of human rights incidents.

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