How big can China get on the Internet? Here are some mind-blowing numbers.

ChinaChina is not only the largest nation on the planet, these days it’s also by far the largest on the Internet (which wasn’t always the case). It has twice as many Internet users as the United States. And it’s only getting started.

The current situation is as follows:

  • Mainland China has 485 million Internet users.
  • If you also include Hong Kong, that number rises to 490 million.
  • That is 23% of the world’s 2.1 billion Internet users.
  • The nearest country after China is the United States, with 245 million Internet users. That is, as we mentioned, half of what China has.

And yet China only has an Internet penetration of 36.3%. In other words, barely a third of its population uses the Internet. That’s very low compared to many other countries, for example the United States, which has an Internet penetration of 78.2%, or the United Kingdom with 82%.

Although China’s population isn’t expected to grow much over the coming decade due to quite aggressive population control, it’s already huge at 1.34 billion. That’s almost one fifth of the world’s population (6.94 billion) and a huge pool of potential Internet users.

China’s capacity for growth

That low Internet penetration coupled with China’s huge population means that the country’s presence on the Internet has plenty of room to grow.

If China today had the same Internet penetration as the United States, it would have over a billion Internet users.

We all know that China’s economy is developing at a frenetic pace, and the Chinese state has placed a strong emphasis on developing the country’s Internet infrastructure. A growing share of its population will have access to the Internet, of that there can be no doubt. A big question remains, though.

An assumption, and China’s record so far

This post of course makes one big assumption, and that is that China can reach the same level of Internet penetration currently enjoyed by countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. China has a huge population its own set of unique challenges, so it may be a long time before this happens. In fact, it may never happen. We don’t have that kind of crystal ball.

However, if you have any doubt about China’s capacity for growth on the Internet, let’s end this post with a brief look at how China’s position on the Internet changed between 2000 and 2010. Back in the year 2000, China had just 22.5 million Internet users. Ten years later, that number had risen to 420 million. And now, just a year later, it’s up to 485 million.

So even though China has just scratched the surface of its potential, it’s already an Internet superpower.

Data source: Internet World Stats for Internet usage numbers.


  1. These figures have no baring what so ever.
    Countries are irrelevant in this day and age when it comes to measures on internet usage. It’s so much more interesting and relevant to measure site usage i.e. how many facebook users are out there. Those are ONE group, albeit not homogenous but still possible to reach from ONE place.

    You couldn’t reach all of the US internet users and even less so get them to act in the same manner.

    Start looking at internet usage from a community perspective rather than the old border perspective. It’s 2011

  2. adergaard:
    Country does not matter? ??
    What about tax and customs laws and also language, and especially in this case: the GREAT WALL???

    yes it is 2011, but old rules and walls (the shift in foundation) still apply.

    You do make some good and valid points, but we still need to think of law and regulation when it comes to trade, marketing and access.


  3. @adergaard. Absolutely agree with you – even if internet reality in China is radically different from our perception. Web censoring, monitoring, ISP/phonecompanies threatening Skype users etc are daily hindrances in the everyday life of users. In that light – the penetration of this kind of reduced internet access is even more impressive.


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