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As China rises on the net, website numbers shrink

Government crackdown blacks out 1.4 million sites

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Even as reports put Chinese as the number two language of the Internet, behind only English, strict government control is reducing the number of Websites within China.

With 457 million Internet users behind the Great Firewall, China’s online boom has matched its long economic boom; the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) says in 2000, the country only had around 22.5 million users.

However, in the last year the government has reasserted its strict state control over what all those Chinese-speakers can access: 41 percent of the Websites that existed at the beginning of 2010 had disappeared by the end of that year. From more than 3 million Websites at the start of the year, the total had fallen to just 1.91 million by the end.

CASS cites “pornography” as the main reason for shutdowns, although there’s the usual suspicion that the government is also cracking down on political dissent.

There is, however, an aspect of the data that suggests another force could also be at work. Although the number of sites fell, the CASS study found that the number of pages grew. The state-sponsored agency gave this as evidence of thriving free speech on China’s Internet. CASS media spokesperson Liu Ruisheng is quoted by AFP as saying “our content is getting stronger, while our supervision is getting more strict and more regulated”.

CASS says 60 billion new pages were created during 2010, even though these are hosted on a falling number of domains. In other words, China’s iron control of Internet content is consolidating the number of content hosts in that country.

It certainly wouldn’t surprise El Reg to find that content control was, either intentionally or otherwise, helping concentrate the market power of major hosts, in a country famous for using market control to favour insider capital. ®

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