A typical Chinese Internet user is a young male who prefers instant messaging to e-mail, rarely makes online purchases and favors news, music and games sites, according to a new study.
The only major public opinion research tracking Internet use in China, the survey was conducted in five cities by Guo Liang of the prominent Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, the government's main think tank.
According to the study, released Thursday at the Brookings Institution in Washington, about two-thirds of survey participants use the Internet for news — often entertainment-related — or for online games. About half download music and movies.
They also tend to prefer instant messaging to e-mail, and they are relying on the Internet more frequently than before to contact others who have the same professions, hobbies and political interests.
Online purchases still remain unpopular in China.
Three-quarters of users surveyed have never bought anything over the Internet, and only 10 percent make purchases even once a month. Among those who do buy online, most pay for entertainment while others buy phone cards, or computer hardware or software.
"Many people don't trust the quality of goods bought online," Guo said Wednesday. "If they buy it in a store and don't like it, they can easily bring it back."
The survey was conducted in five major cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Changsha. The cities also were surveyed in 2003 as part of the ongoing study that began in 2000 as a way to provide empirical data and analysis on Internet development in China. Results do not necessarily project countrywide because Internet use in rural areas is lower than in cities.
Guo, the academy's leading Internet expert, describes the typical netizen in the five cities surveyed as young, male, richer and more highly educated.
Males make up two-thirds of the Internet community, and more than 80 percent of users are under 24. Among people ages 25 to 29, 60 percent to 80 percent go online.
China has more than 100 million people online, second in the world to the United States, according to government statistics.
Its government has aggressively promoted Internet use for education and business, though it has also tried to keep its citizens from material it deems subversive or pornographic. Online dissidents are regularly arrested.
According to Guo's survey, more than one-third of the urban users surveyed do not use e-mail. Of those that do, only about one-third check their e-mail at least once a day.
"I think Chinese people prefer instant contact. Very few Chinese use answering machines and e-mail is like an answering machine. It's convenient but but not immediate," Guo said.
Forty-two percent say they do not engage search engines. Those who do seek leisure or entertainment news, as well as information useful for work or study. Traditional news ranked behind those searches. Online portal Baidu.com was used by half of those surveyed, compared with a quarter for Google, the leading search engine in the United States.
The survey, conducted in February and March, was based on random door-to-door household interviews in the five major cities. The sample size was 2,376, including 1,169 Internet users and 1,207 nonusers.