The Early Days of China’s Internet

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Information Revolution
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<p>I went to college in 1997. I remember the handover of Hong Kong right before my college entrance exam. I also had my first encounter with the Internet in the same year. I learned a little bit about the Internet in Chongqing, Sichuan. Then I became really interested in it after I came to Beijing. At the time, we had to wait in line to get on the Internet at the computer lab. The computers were all really old, with those black and white screens. And all we could do was to use Telnet to log on some BBS. All of a sudden, I discovered: hey, I could chat with people! This is interesting! I was among the first group of netizens in my school. I remember the lab was at Building Two, on the second floor. It only had about 40 computers. And everyone had to go there to get on the Internet. Then again, most students at the time weren't aware of the Internet. But I was interested. Some people had to use the internet for their assignments, perhaps they were majoring in related fields. To me, it was purely a curiosity. I found it interesting and wanted to learn more about it. I like unusual things. So I waited in line and wanted to find what I could do on the Internet. At the time there wasn't much one could do on the Internet. There weren't' many websites in China, just one or two with some scale. Like Stone Rich Sight, with perhaps just a thousand visitors in total. It's nothing like today's websites. The only websites with more visitors were college bulletin board systems (BBS). My first BBS experience was at the Tsinghua University BBS. It was the most famous BBS among college students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A BBS in essence is a forum. You would use Telnet to log on, and you would be greeted by a black and white interface. No color or pictures, it would be text only. Then you could select to go to different boards, each board would have many topics. Under each topic, you could read different posts. You could reply to a post. You could also send instant messages to another online user. He or she could reply your messages. It's a very simple community. But since it is a college BBS, people could meet and get to know each other offline. So I got to know a lot of people through the BBS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think the biggest difference between Chinese and Western Internet users is that Chinese people use the Internet mainly for entertainment purposes. Only a small portion of Chinese Internet users get online to find information, or for some work-related purposes. Most Chinese people use the Internet for entertainment, to kill some time. Whether through watching movies, listening to music, playing games, or visiting social network websites, it's all entertainment. In the past, Chinese people only had very limited ways of entertainment. People would just go out to watch a movie or go shopping. Then suddenly, they have the Internet, something with a very low fixed cost. It's easy and cheap whether you go to Internet Bars or stay at home. But you can have access to so many ways of entertainment. So people are willing toget online. At the same time, you can interact with so many people.</p>
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