At China Media Project, Hu Yong describes three trends in the developing tone, role and political context of China’s Internet over the past year:
Looking back at China’s internet in 2011, there were three broad trends that deserve greater attention. The first trend was a general shift from emotionally-driven nationalist chatter as the defining tone of China’s internet toward a more basic attention to issues of public welfare. The second was the rise of what we can call the “social power of the internet” (网络社会力). And the third trend was a more pronounced deficit in understanding on the government’s part about the role it should play in a networked society. While it became readily apparent, that is, that we now have a networked civil society in China, it became clearer at the same time that we lack government administrators who are internet literate (网络化的治理者) ….
Clearly, the winds are changing. When you cannot find safe milk for your child to drink, when their school buses are hazardous, when you worry that you might be exposed to dangerous recycled cooking oils if you go out to a local restaurant, when the city where you live is choked with pollution and you have no idea what the actual PM2.5 measures for the most dangerous air particles are, the question that possesses you above all else is what direction Chinese society is heading. You care more about how the people of China can enjoy lives of peace and prosperity, and less about the murderous logic of the Boxer Rebellion. [NOTE: Hu is suggesting here that trends of extreme nationalism in China are marked with the same sort of anti-foreign violence seen during the Boxer Rebellion.]
(Reading the entire piece is strongly recommended.)
Underlying these trends was the continued rise of the microblog. The number of weibo users reportedly quadrupled last year to a quarter of a billion, almost half of China’s online population, from 63 million at the end of 2010. But this growth tailed off in the second half of the year, according to a report from the China Internet Network Information Center [zh, PDF]. From China Real Time Report:
… [N]early half of China’s total 513 million Internet users were using microblogs, CNNIC said. The total number of Internet users, defined by CNNIC as anyone who used the Internet in the last six months, was up from 457 million at the end of 2010.
But user growth for China’s microblog services has slowed, the report said. “The explosion in users occurred in the first half of the year, with the user growth rate slowing in the second half… showing that after reaching high levels, microblog usage rates have ended their explosive growth.”
The government agency’s findings don’t entirely match data from the country’s microblog operators, possibly due to differing methodology and definitions. Tencent said it had 310 million registered Tencent Weibo users at the end of September, marking fast growth from the more than 200 million users it said it had in June, and exceeding the total number of Weibo users in China reported by CNNIC.
Sina reported having 227 million registered accounts on Sina Weibo at the end of September, an increase of 21% from the previous quarter.
The CNNIC figures don’t entirely match others issued by the government, either: State Council Information Office chief Wang Chen stated in September that the number of microbloggers in China had already passed 300 million.