The People’s Republic had 632 million people who could use the Internet in June, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). That is a record, and it makes its Internet population well over twice that of the United States. However, 450 million Chinese do not use the Internet at all, mostly because they cannot get access to it. That means a group that is 50% larger than the America’s population are in the dark, at least so far as having access to the news of the world, instant communication and the most basic online entertainment.
The Chinese central government may be content to have so many people offline. Every time someone connects, he or she has the chance to find out what goes on outside China, and the problems the country has that should worry its residents. China does not have the ability to support its aging population. Pollution is rampant and dangerous. The government often represses dissent. And, ironically, it blocks access to many parts of the Internet because the Internet can take people to sites that sharply criticize the regime.
Also, there is the problem of access to texting and social media, which allows news, whether it is accurate or not, to spread across a population of tens of millions of people in a day or less. Internet users have a chance to get the flashes of information that have helped erode the power of regimes in other nations where the government has a stranglehold on even the most basic liberties. North African countries offer the most recent example, but there are bound to be more to come.
While access to the Internet is a sign that China has advanced technologically to the point where its population is no longer isolated from the world and living in the information dark ages, it has come at the increasing cost of a population that is educated. The central government may want those 450 million people to stay offline.