20080313-Monk-Using-Cell-Phone-in-Qiangbalin-Temple-Chamdo-Tibet-Chin.jpg China has the largest Internet market in the world with almost all subscribers accessing Internet through mobile devices. There are 118 cell phone and smart subscription for every 100 people, compared to 13 per 100 for fixed line telephones. A domestic satellite system with several earth stations has been in place since 2018. China is pushing development of smart cities outside of Beijing and other large cities. Beijing residents carry virtual card integrating identity, social security, health, and education documents. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2022]

Satellites: China has seven earth stations (5 Intelsat — 4 Pacific Ocean and 1 Indian Ocean; 1 Intersputnik — Indian Ocean region; and 1 Inmarsat — Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Submarine Cables: landing points for the RJCN, EAC-C2C, TPE, APCN-2, APG, NCP, TEA, SeaMeWe-3, SJC2, Taiwan Strait Express-1, AAE-1, APCN-2, AAG, FEA, FLAG and TSE submarine cables provide connectivity to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. International phone country code: 86. (2019)

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was established in 2008 as a department for the administration of China’s industrial branches and information industry. It answers to the State Council, one of the highest government bodies in China. Telecommunications facilities used to fall under the authority of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (1949-1998). In 1998, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications was amalgamated with other ministries to become the Ministry of Information Industries.

Much of the Internet and phone transmission between the United States and China is carried along the 17,000-kilometer undersea “Trans-Pacific Express” between Oregon and China. China invested $138 billion in telecommunications networks between 2000 and 2005. The telecommunications sector brought in around $200 billion worth of revenues in 2001, up from $43.5 billion in 2010.

One of the problems with the communications revolution in China is that it has resulted in wires being hung all over the cities: telephones wires, fiber optic wires, electrical wires, wires whose purpose no one knows. The problems is particularly acute in Shanghai which has experienced the most explosive growth. There are so many wires that kite flying is banned in the parks to prevent them from getting tangled in the wires.

History of Communications in China

The first Pacific Ocean cable between the United States and China was completed in 1906. China avoided the lengthy and expensive process of connecting the country with copper telephone lines by setting up cellular phone systems. It took more than a hundred years to unite China by wire but only around a decade to so with cellular phones and the Internet.

In the Mao era, the link for many to the outside world was their village’s single transistor radio. Strong economic growth, rising consumer purchasing power and development in rural areas have been driving demand for telecommunications, with cell phones in particular. In July 2009, cell phone calls and Internet calls exceeded fixed line calls for the first time, with cell phone calls accounting for 50.3 percent of all calls made and fixed line home, office and public phone calls accounting for 49.7 percent of all calls. In 2016, smart phones outsold other kinds of cell phones for the first time.

When the People's Republic was founded in 1949, the telecommunications facilities in China were outdated, and many had been damaged or destroyed during the war years. In the 1950s existing facilities were repaired, and, with Soviet assistance, considerable progress was made toward establishing a long-distance telephone wire network connecting Beijing to provincial-level capitals. In addition, conference telephone service was initiated, radio communications were improved, and the production of telecommunications equipment was accelerated. Growth in telecommunications halted with the general economic collapse after the Great Leap Forward (1958-60) but revived in the 1960s after the telephone network was expanded and improved equipment was introduced, including imports of Western plants. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

An important component of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1971-75) was a major development program for the telecommunications system. The program allotted top priority to scarce electronics and construction resources and dramatically improved all aspects of China's telecommunications capabilities. Microwave radio relay lines and buried cable lines were constructed to create a network of wideband carrier trunk lines, which covered the entire country. China was linked to the international telecommunications network by the installation of communications satellite ground stations and the construction of coaxial cables linking Guangdong Province with Hong Kong and Macao. Provincial-level units and municipalities rapidly expanded local telephone and wire broadcasting networks. Expansion and modernization of the telecommunications system continued throughout the late-1970s and early 1980s, giving particular emphasis to the production of radio and television sets and expanded broadcasting capabilities.

Telecommunications in China in the 1980s

In 1987 China possessed a diversified telecommunications system that linked all parts of the country by telephone, telegraph, radio, and television. None of the telecommunications forms were as prevalent or as advanced as those in modern Western countries, but the system included some of the most sophisticated technology in the world and constituted a foundation for further development of a modern network. High-speed newspaper-page-facsimile equipment and Chinesecharacter - code translation equipment were used on a large scale. Sixty-four-channel program-controlled automatic message retransmission equipment and low- or medium-speed data transmission and exchange equipment also received extensive use. International telex service was available in coastal cities and special economic zones. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

In 1987 the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications administered China's telecommunications systems and related research and production facilities. Besides postal services, some of which were handled by electronic means, the ministry was involved in a wide spectrum of telephone, wire, telegraph, and international communications (see Postal Services , this ch.). The Ministry of Radio and Television was established as a separate entity in 1982 to administer and upgrade the status of television and radio broadcasting. Subordinate to this ministry were the Central People's Broadcasting Station, Radio Beijing, and China Central Television. Additionally, the various broadcasting training, talent-search, research, publishing, and manufacturing organizations were brought under the control of the Ministry of Radio and Television. In 1986 responsibility for the movie industry was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the new Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television. The Chinese Communist Party's Propaganda Department coordinates the work of both telecommunications-related ministries.

As of 1987 the quality of telecommunications services in China had improved markedly over earlier years. A considerable influx of foreign technology and increased domestic production capabilities had a major impact in the post-Mao period.*

The primary form of telecommunications in the 1980s was local and long-distance telephone service administered by six regional bureaus: Beijing (north region), Shanghai (east region), Xi'an (northwest region), Chengdu (southwest region), Wuhan (centralsouth region), and Shenyang (northeast region). These regional headquarters served as switching centers for provincial-level subsystems. By 1986 China had nearly 3 million telephone exchange lines, including 34,000 long-distance exchange lines with direct, automatic service to 24 cities. By late 1986 fiber optic communications technology was being employed to relieve the strain on existing telephone circuits. International service was routed through overseas exchanges located in Beijing and Shanghai. Guangdong Province had coaxial cable and microwave lines linking it to Hong Kong and Macao.*

The large, continuously upgraded satellite ground stations, originally installed in 1972 to provide live coverage of the visits to China by U.S. president Richard M. Nixon and Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, still served as the base for China's international satellite communications network in the mid-1980s. By 1977 China had joined Intelsat and, using ground stations in Beijing and Shanghai, had linked up with satellites over the Indian and Pacific oceans.*

In April 1984 China launched an experimental communications satellite for trial transmission of broadcasts, telegrams, telephone calls, and facsimile, probably to remote areas of the country. In February 1986 China launched its first fully operational telecommunications and broadcast satellite. The quality and communications capacity of the second satellite reportedly was much greater than the first. In mid-1987 both satellites were still functioning. With these satellites in place China's domestic satellite communication network went into operation, facilitating television and radio transmissions and providing direct-dial longdistance telephone, telegraph, and facsimile service. The network had ground stations in Beijing, Urumqi, Hohhot, Lhasa, and Guangzhou, which also were linked to an Intelsat satellite over the Indian Ocean.*

Telegraph development received lower priority than the telephone network largely because of the difficulties involved in transmitting the written Chinese language. Computer technology gradually alleviated these problems and facilitated further growth in this area. By 1983 China had nearly 10,000 telegraph cables and telex lines transmitting over 170 million messages annually. Most telegrams were transmitted by cables or by shortwave radio. Cutmicrowave transmission also was used. Teletype transmission was used for messages at the international level, but some 40 percent of county and municipal telegrams still were transmitted by Morse code.*

Apart from traditional telegraph and telephone services, China also had facsimile, low-speed data-transmission, and computercontrolled telecommunications services. These included on-line information retrieval terminals in Beijing, Changsha, and Baotou that enabled international telecommunications networks to retrieve news and scientific, technical, economic, and cultural information from international sources.*

Telecommunications in China in the 2000s and 2010s

By the early 2000s, inter-provincial fiber-optic trunk lines and cellular telephone systems had been installed. At that time a domestic satellite system with 55 earth stations was in place. Internationally, China had five Intelsat (four Pacific Ocean and one Indian Ocean), one Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region), and one Inmarsat (Pacific and Indian Ocean regions) in 2000, as well as several international fiber-optic links to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Russia, and Germany. [Source: Robert Guang Tian and Camilla Hong Wang, Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies, Gale Group Inc., 2002]

China had 2.7 million kilometers of optical fiber telecommunication cables by 2003. This assisted greatly in its modernization process. The Ministry of Information Industry reported in 2004 that China had 295 million subscribers to main telephone lines and 305 million cellular telephone subscribers, the highest numbers in both categories in the world but second per capita to the United States. Both categories showed substantial increases over the previous decade; in 1995 there were only 3.6 million cellular telephone subscribers and around 20 million main-line telephone subscribers. By 2003 there were 42 telephones per 100 population. Internet use also has soared in China from about 60,000 Internet users in 1995 to 22.5 million users in 2000; by 2005 the number had reached 103 million. Although this figure is well below the 159 million users in the United States and although fairly low per capita, it was second in the world and on a par with Japan’s 57 million users. [Source: Library of Congress, August 2006]

In 2010, a Chinese regulator declared Internet phone services other than those provided by Chinese companies such China Telecom and China Unicom were illegal. This made services like Skype largely unavailable in China. The decision was criticized as a means of protecting the control of state-owned telecom carriers. [Source: Zhu Shenshen, Shanghai Daily, December 30, 2010]

In December 2013, China officially issued fourth-generation (4G) mobile network licenses to the country's three telecom operators: 1) China Mobile Communications Corp, 2) China Unicom (China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd) and 3) China Telecom (China Telecommunications Corp.) At the time the China Daily reported: “Chinese telecom operators have already invested resources into 4G networks. China Mobile is actively promoting three homegrown TD-LTE 4G technologies. The operator aims to build 200,000 4G reception stations for a TD-LTE network of more than 500 million people in China this year. China Unicom and China Telecom recently began procuring 4G network equipment and mobile terminals. [Source: Shen Jingting,, December 4, 2013]

Efforts by China Communist Party to Control Phone-Era Communications

David Bandurski wrote in the China Media Project: On January 25, 2019 “all seven members of China’s elite Politburo Standing Committee, including President Xi Jinping, gathered at the headquarters of the flagship People’s Daily newspaper to underline the importance of “convergence media” and digital media development as a means of strengthening the Party’s dominance of ideas and information. Xi Jinping told those present that the Party “must utilise the fruits of the information revolution to promote deep development of convergence media.” The objective was to “build up mainstream public opinion” — meaning, of course, Party-led public opinion — and to “consolidate the shared ideological foundation underpinning the concerted efforts of the entire Party and all the Chinese people.” [Source: David Bandurski, China Media Project, February 13, 2019]

“Xi’s stilted and jargon-filled speech was essentially about the Party finding new ways to reengineer its dominance over the realm of ideas in the face of dramatic changes to the media environment brought on by the digital revolution. But what exactly does this mean in practice?” In early 2019, we “witnessed one product that provides at least part of the answer, a prime example of how the Party can leverage digital media products to reshape the whole process of ideological control in ways that are far more personal, and far more effective, than anything we have witnessed in the reform era.

“As the People’s Daily reported on January 15: “On New Year’s Day, many Party members and cadres found to their delight that ‘Xi Study Strong Nation,’ an authoritative and content-rich platform especially for theoretical study, had formally been launched,” the official People’s Daily reported on January 15. Available at the website, the “Xi Study Strong Nation” app is tool by means of which, once installed, the Party can assert its ideological and intellectual authority over Party members and employees of Party-run institutions, including schools and media. Beyond making Party messages passively available, as Party newspapers and state controlled media have done for decades, the app commands engagement, by which users can earn “Xi Study Points” . Once engagement with the app is enforced by administrative demands that it be installed and used, something that is already happening, the messages of the Party become inescapable.

“Gone are the days when you can simply ignore that stack of Party newspapers in the corner of the office, or switch off the Party’s nightly newcast, “Xinwen Lianbo.” The app, designed and built by the Propaganda and Public Opinion Research Center of the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP , an office previously known as the “Research Center on Ideology and Political Work” , is organised into several sections. These include, to name just a few, “Important News” , “New Thought” and “Summary of Current Politics” , all aggregating the speeches and statements of Xi Jinping, as well as audio and video content.

“The platform has been designed with a built-in “Xi Study Points” system that allows users to accumulate points on the basis of habitual use of the platform, from reading and viewing of content to the posting of comments and other forms of engagement. It has been widely promoted by local governments and ministries and departments across China, and there have also been reports that some work units have ordered employees to attain specified point levels, with disciplinary measures to be imposed for those who fail to comply.

Cell Phones in China

China is the world’s largest mobile phone market. Cell Phones: (mobile cellular and smart phones): total subscriptions: 1,696,356,000 (2020); subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 117.9 (2020 est.). No. 1 in the world.[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2022]

In 1998, there were an estimated 23.4 million mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people, compared to 215 per 1,000 people in 2003. By 2005, this figure had increased 437 million mobile phones for every 1,000 people.

Revenue for the Mobile Telecommunications industry in China is was around $142.7 billion in 2021 According to Ibisworld: Revenue declined by 7.9 percent in 2019, due to the decrease in mobile voice call duration and slight growth in mobile data traffic. However, starting in 2020, the use of 5G technology has promoted the development of this industry. The industry was expected to account for about 61 percent of China's total telecommunication services sector by revenue in 2021. Growth in the number of mobile phone users and value-added services have supported industry revenue growth over the past five years. [Source: “Mobile Telecommunications Industry in China - Market Research Report. Ibisworld, December 6, 2021]

Fixed Line Telephones in China

20080313-cigphone chenese cell phone textually spekaing.gif
Chinese-made cigphone

Fixed Lines Telephones: total subscriptions: 181.908 million (2020); subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: (2020 est.): 12.64. No. 1 in the world. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2022]

In 1998, there were an estimated 110 million fixed line telephones in use for every 1,000 people., compared to 209 per 1,000 people in 2003. By 2005, this figure had increased to 350 million for every 1,000 people. There were 368 million fixed line telephones in use in 2006. Demand for fixed-line service has fallen as the number of cell phone accounts has risen. Fixed line phone accounts fell by 6.5 million in the first five months of 2008 to 358 million.

In 1991 China had 15 million telephones, or one for every 170 people. By 1995 this figure increased to one telephone for every 77 people. In 1996 it was one telephone for every 36.4 people. One reason the there were so few at that time is that the government wanted to control information. Back then it was difficult to even get a fax machine. By 1995, the number of telephones had jumped to 36 million or 3 for every 100 people. By 2002, the number had increased to 400 million, divided about half and half between fixed lines phones and cell phones. These days fixed line services are struggling to attract new users,

"A Chinese phone call," travel writer Paul Theroux wrote in the late 1980s, "was like Chinese life: it was full of other people, close together doing exactly what you were trying to do. Often the phone went dead. You could wait eight hours to be connected. Occasionally a whole city would be cut off...any calls other than local ones, were out of the question: the city was isolated, though it could be reached by telegraph, using morse code. The old Chinese phones were of heavy Bakelite...the new ones were lightweight plastic, like toys...It was possible to imagine how they felt about them from the way they shrieked into them. It was always shrieks. No one ever chatted on a telephone in China."

Telephone Companies in China

In 1994, the fixed telephone company (China Telecom) and two mobile phone telephone companies (China Mobile and China Unicom) were spun off from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. In 2000, China Telecom was forced to spin off its mobile service (now China Mobile), satellite services (now ChinaSat) and paging services (Guoxin, now part of Unicom). In 2002, the fixed telephone company was split into two: China Netcom for North China and China Telecom for South China

In the 2000s, China Telecom was China’s No 2 telecom company and China’s largest fixed line service provider. At that time it operated in 21 southern provinces and municipalities and had 300,000 employees and $14.5 billion in revenues and 220 million fixed line customers. In 2007 it lost 2.7 million user due to competition from cell phone companies. China Netcom was China’s No. 2 fixed phone service and China’s 4th largest telecom company. Created out of a proposal to build high-speed Internet connections, it operated in 10 northern provinces and had 210,000 employees and $4.1 billion in revenues. 2002. At that time China Telecom and China Netcom hoped to make up for their loss of fixed line phone users by increasing the number of broadband Internet subscribers. China Telecom had 35.65 million subscribers to its broadband service and China Netcom had 19.77 Internet users in 2007.

In May 2008, it was announced that China’s phone companies would merge into three large groups, bringing together cell phone and fixed line operators. The plan was hatched to create competition for China Mobile. After the reorganization of China's telecommunication industry, there are now three mobile and fixed line phone service providers. 1) China Mobile continues the old China Mobile's service, absorbed China Railway Communications, and began 3G service using TD-SCDMA, China's disputed own technology. 2) China Unicom continues the old China Unicom's GSM service, absorbed the old China Netcom's network of fixed telephones in the north of the Yangtze River in China, and started 3G service using W-CDMA technology. 3) China Telecom continues PHS service of the old China Netcom and China Telecom, continues the old China Telecom's network of fixed telephones in the south of the Yangtze River, and began 3G service using CDMA2000 technology.

China Mobile and China Unicom are both are based in Beijing. They expanded aggressively in the 2000s by scrapping charges for incoming calls and moving into towns and villages. China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom all have fixed line and mobile telephone services and offer broadband internet, digital television and Internet television. It

Postal Services in China

China's mail has traditionally been mainly carried by the nation's railroad. China Post — officially the China Post Group Corporation — is the state-owned enterprise operating the official postal service of China. The State Post Bureau is the government agency that regulates China Post. It used to report to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and is now under the administration of the Ministry of Transport. In November 2006, Beijing announced a plan to sell off the China Post — the Chinese postal system — for $10 billion and make it into a private company.

China Post Savings and Remittance Bureau is China’s fifth largest financial institution after China’s four main banks. It accounts for nine percent of all bank deposits, has $1.3 trillion in bank deposits, 270 mullion customers and more than 36,000 branches, mostly in the countryside. Postal savings account for one third of postal revenues, In rural areas the figure is 60 percent. China Post was launched in 1986. Since then it has offered only deposit and loans. In 2007 it was given permission to provide loans for the first time. Analysts believe it will take five years to make China Post a full service bank

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications was established in 1949 and reestablished in 1973 after a two-year period during which the postal and telecommunications functions had been separated and the ministry downgraded to a subministerial level. Although postal service in China goes back some 2,500 years, modern postal services were not established until 1877 by the Qing government. Development was slow; by 1949 there was only 1 post office for every 370 square kilometers. Since then the postal service has grown rapidly. In 1984 China had 53,000 post and telecommunications offices and 5 million kilometers of postal routes, including 240,000 kilometers of railroad postal routes, 624,000 kilometers of highway postal routes, and 230,000 kilometers of airmail routes. By 1985 post offices were handling 4.7 billion first-class letters and 25 billion newspapers and periodicals. In 1987, after a six-year hiatus, six-digit postal codes were ordered to be put into use. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

Image Sources: Textually speaking blog; Cgstock ; Picasaweb Jeff; China Digital Times, blogger Jessica ; Wiki Commons ; Asia Obscura

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2022

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