20080313-Monk-Using-Cell-Phone-in-Qiangbalin-Temple-Chamdo-Tibet-Chin.jpg 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 are 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.

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 $43.5 billion worth of revenues in 2001. In 1998, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications was amalgamated with other ministries to become the Ministry of Information Industries.

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.

Good Websites and Sources: China’s Ministry of Information Industry ; China Mobile ; Internet in China: Wikipedia article on Internet Censorship in China Wikipedia ; Open Net Initiative on the Internet in China ; Great Firewall Website Test / ; Harvard Law School Report on Internet Filtering ; China Internet Network Information Center ;The Berkeley China Internet Project and China Digital Times

Good Websites and Sources on the Chinese Media: Council of Foreign Relations on Media Censorship in China ;, an English-language blog on the Chinese media ; China Media Blog ; China Today ; Freedom House Report ; List of Media in China ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Media Bibliography Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) ; News About China ; China Media Project ;China Digital Times


Telephones in China

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Chinese-made cigphone

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.

People per telephone (1996): 36.4, up from one telephone for every 77 people in 1995.

There were 368 million main line telephones in use in 2006. In 1991 China had 15 million telephones, or one for every 170 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," wrote Theroux 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."

Cell Phones in China


China is the world’s largest mobile phone market with 650 million users as of October 2009. It became that way very quick. The number of cell phones rose from near zero in 1990 to around 3.7 million in 1995 to 17 million in 1998 to 100 million in 2001 to 200 million in 2003 to 383 million in December 2005 to 409.7 million in March 2006 and 592 million in July 2008. New subscribers are added at a rate of around 7 million a month.

China began issuing third-generation phone licenses in January 2009. Third generation phones are much faster and can better handle the Internet and videos. The move is expected to make telecom operators more interested in content.

The cell phone penetration in some urban area is near 100 percent. There are more than 900 different handset models available, compared to only 80 or so in the United States. Companies like Samsung offer new handsets models every week, the latest with fast Internet access. On average Chinese change their cell phones every three or six months. It is not unusual for young people to change cell phones four times a year, sometimes spending a month’s salary to obtain the latest stylus and touch screen models that allow users to use Chinese characters to communicate.

During the 1990s, China poured more than $10 billion into erecting a national mobile phone network. Much of the work was done by foreign companies like Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia. Still in some rural areas the cell phone reception is often only good if you climb a hill.

In the 2000s, the Chinese developed homegrown 3G technology to run the next generation of mobile telephone network, which will be able to beam high-speed Internet connections to phones and handheld computers. Chinese companies such as Datang Telecom, Huaei technologies and ZTE Corp. are oping to develop homegrown standards that will not only save them from paying royalties to foreign companies but earn them billions in revenues if their system are sent abroad.

In many parts of China you can find homes without toilets, without even out houses, but the residents have cell phones.

A communications analyst told the Los Angeles Times, “The mobile phome jas been the young person's biggest, most expensive possession. The mobile phone is what people carry with them. This is the badge that [says], “I’m moving up.”

Many people have multiple cell phone account for business and personal use. One of he most popular films in 2004 was “Cell Phone”, a dark comedy about a despicable TV talk show host who used his cell phone and text messages to hide his relations with his mistress and his lover from his wife.

Exploding Mobile Phone Kills Man in China

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In February 2009, man died after his mobile phone exploded, bursting an artery in his neck, The Telegraph reported. The shop worker from Guangzhou, China, died moments after he put a new battery in his phone, it has been claimed. It was believed that he may have just finished charging the battery and had put the phone in his breast pocket when it exploded. [Source: The Telegraph, February 3, 2009]

China's daily Shin Min Daily News said the accident happened on Janurat 30, at 7.30pm. An employee at the shop told local media that she heard a loud bang and saw her colleague lying on the floor of the shop in a pool of blood. The employee said the victim had recently changed the battery in his mobile phone.Police are investigating what caused the explosion and whether the phone was counterfeit. The make and model of the phone are not thought to be known.

Local reports said that this was the ninth recorded cellphone explosion in China since 2002.The Shin Min Daily News published advice for consumers on how to avoid being hurt by exploding mobile phones, following the latest incident. Some of the tips were: 1) Always use original batteries; 2) Do not expose your mobile phone to high temperatures, and avoid exposing it to direct sunlight; 3) Avoid long phone conversations.

'Big Brother' Cell Phone Surveillance in China

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “Beijing is considering plans to launch a mobile phone tracking system that will put the day-to-day movements of 17 million residents of the Chinese capital under 24-hour, 'Big Brother' surveillance. The "travelling efficiency" program has officially been set up to smooth road and pedestrian traffic but the operation will also allow the Beijing authorities to monitor the precise movements of the capital's mobile phone users. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 4, 2011]

If it is approved, the project, known as the "Information Platform of Realtime Citizen Movement", will draw on information extracted from people's mobile phones, local cell stations and satellite-tracking technology. By processing the data with powerful computers, the authorities could be supplied with unprecedented levels of live information on the location and trajectory of all mobile users in the capital. Communications specialists have decried the plans as a poorly disguised attempt at privacy invasion.

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The information extracted from large numbers of mobile phones could give the authorities a constantly churning map of where ordinary Chinese are gathering - allowing them to judge at what point a street full of shoppers becomes a potentially subversive mob in need of an immediate crackdown. Chen Derong, Professor of Wireless Communications at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said the proposed system had nothing to do with monitoring traffic.

The technology involved was not cutting-edge, he argued, and the need to improve transport conditions could not justify a system that knew the position of every citizen."We are talking about two completely different concepts. Mobile phone positioning is a matter of personal privacy. If you want to know about the flow of traffic, you should install filming equipment at junctions," he told The Times.

The plans have emerged amid official paranoia over online calls for a "jasmine revolution". High on the list of official concerns is the threat of large numbers of people congregating in public spaces; a fear based on the proven organisational power of smartphones, Facebook-style social networking and Twitter-like microblogs.Proponents of the new project make no mention of "clamping down" or any other public security motive, but Professor Chen said that the system made sense only if it was intended to allow police to work out an individual's position for security reasons.

"Why should they know something as private as my current location just to help with traffic jams? Traffic flow and individual positioning are as incongruous as putting the mouth of a horse on the head of an ox," he said. Li Guoguang, an official at the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission, which came up with the proposal, said that the scheme would give the Government "knowledge of the population distribution and movement of the city with unprecedented accuracy".

Mr Li's plans, which appear to have been hatched with the collusion of the government-owned carrier China Mobile, are based on his calculation that 70 per cent of Beijing residents own a mobile phone. Through that network alone, the authorities would have surveillance powers over about 17 million people. If the program were put into effect, it is likely that subscribers to China Telecom and China Unicom would also come under scrutiny.

Beijing's process for gathering information on traffic and travel has, in the past, been sporadic and imprecise. The city conducts a survey every five years in which it asks 50,000 people about the route and vehicle of their daily commute.

Text Messages in China

The Chinese do more text messaging than anyone else. This is thought to be partly because it is such a cheap way to communicate and because a lot of information can be packed into a few characters.

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A total of 429 billion text messages were sent by cell phones used in 2006, an equivalent of 927 per user, or 33 billion a month, more than any other country. A total of 217.8 billion text messages were sent used in 2004, a 58.8 percent increase from 2003 and as many as the rest of the world combined. Text messaging is popular because it is cheap and most Chinese don’t have the money to make calls.

Chinese vastly prefer text messaging to e-mail. They prefer the immediacy and convenience of text messaging. Plus almost everybody has a cell phone while a computer is still out of reach for many people. Chinese chat, exchange greetings, pass on jokes and flirt with text messages. During the mid-autumn festival in 2007, 2 billion messages were sent in a single day, most greetings and well wishes.

Advanced cell phones with a stylus allow users to draw the characters they want on the screen. Many older people prefer this method. Younger people prefer using the Romanized sound system with a lot of abbreviations .

Nine out of ten cell phone users in China send text messages, compared to only 49 percent of cell phone users in the United States.

There are text message services that provide weather reports, novels, advice for the heartbroken, digital “pets,” music and pornography. People can vote for their favorite idol on television games shows with messages. Mobile gaming is big and lucrative. Among the games that have done well are trivia quizzes, adventure games and adaptions of rock, scissors, paper. There are also a number of schemes that offer fake cash prizes and illegal services such as gambling and prostitution.

Text Messages and the Government in China

The government has clamped down on text messaging service that offer pornography and some forms of entertainment and installed technology that allows them to snoop on users. The effort was ostensibly set up to cut down on text pornography but can also be used for surveillance of any user. The technology is similar to what is used to monitor the Internet and block websites and find key words.

The government routinely monitors private e-mail, telephone calls text messages and electronic communications with 2,800 surveillance centers..A campaign in 2005, found 107,000 illegal short messages and shut down 9,700 cell phone accounts. Banking scams, illegal lotteries, prostitution and pornography services made up the majority of the shut down sites, The Venus Inor Tech surveillance system filters messages deemed to be “false political rumors.”

Text messaging has been used to organize protests and social disturbances. It is more dispersed and difficult to control than the Internet See Politics

In 2006, Qin Zhongfei a mild-manner bureaucrat, spent a month in jail after he wrote a poem on a lark that poked fun at a local official accused of corruption, using puns based on the similarity of the official’s name to the Chinese words for “Viagra” and “incompetent." He sent the poem as text message to some friends and they sent it their friends and before long it was sent to officials in the local government.

The officials were outraged, They tracked down some of the messages and eventually tracked Qin down. He was confronted at his work and detained on charges of criminal libel, which carries a sentence of three years. His case widely publicized in the press, even the official government-sanctioned press.

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Protests in Xiamen

Text Messages Shut Down a $1.4 Billion Chemical Plant

The construction of a $1.4 billion chemical factory in Xiamen was halted after citizens there launched a successful text messaging campaign. Widely-distributed messages used inflammatory language comparing the chemicals produced at the plant to nuclear bomb material and warned of leukemia and birth defects. The messages reached more than 1 million cell phones and reached nearly all of Xiamen’s 1.5 million residents through cell phone, word of mouth or messages painted on building walls.

Environmentalist posted the first messages on the Internet. In addition to raising fears about the chemicals themselves they also pointed out that the plant was built near a densely populated area and could damage the city’s tourism industry. As Internet sites were closed down, reports started showing up newspapers outside of Xiamen.

Angry messages about the chemical factory were removed from the Internet but the text messages were so widely disseminated using the short message system (SMS) from so many sources at so many different times the government was helpless to do anything about it. One blogger wrote “SMS is a widely used communications method, more than the Internet. Only a certain amount of people use the Internet, but almost everyone has a cell phone.”

Chinese authorities have technology to monitor cell phone messages and track their sources. They they tried to block message in Xiamen but when people send out messages to their friends and family members and they in turn send messages to more people information spreads in exponential fashion and is difficult to stop.

Once the text message campaign gained momentum it took on a life of its own. In early June 2007, demonstrations with 10,000 participants were held and Xiamen began getting nationwide coverage. Everyone was caught by surprise when the city announced construction of the chemical factory would be stopped. Many felt that was perhaps most significant about the protest was that people were not afraid to speak out even though they knew their messages could tracked.

In December 2007, a public hearing on the plant was held and public opinion was almost unanimously against it. The plant has not been officially canceled but there are no plans to resume construction anytime soon.

New I-Party for Cell Phones

In June 2010, the Communication University of China's branch of the Communist Party of China has launched a party newspaper for mobile phones.In Chinese, the paper's name isthe CUC Institutional Mobile Party Newspaper . In English it is simply called i-Party. [Source:, June 8, 2010]

According to the university's news portal, the i-Party name carries multiple levels of meaning: “The letter “I” means “me” in English. It is the first letter of words such as “Internet” and “Information,” one of the symbols of the Information Age, a symbol of “me-media” in the New Media era, and is a sound-alike for “love” ). The lower-case “i” says that I am a member of the party, and the capitalized “Party” refers to the Communist Party of China in particular. “i-Party” means the party in the age of new media, that our party is keeping pace with the time. It also means that I and the Party are inseparable. Finally, it expresses love for the Party. Twelve issues have been published to date. A total of 3,600 MMS messages have been distributed to an audience that includes not just party members at the school, but students, teachers, and media professionals as well. The reports on i-Party do not claim that it is the first party newspaper prepared especially for mobile phones. But I'd be willing to bet that it's the first to put a heart atop an “i” in its nameplate.

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Cell phones sales

Telecommunication Companies in China

China Telecom is China’s No 2 telecom company and China’s largest fixed line service provider. Formerly part of the Ministry of Information Industries, it operates in 21 southern provinces and municipalities, and has 300,000 employees and $14.5 billion in revenues and 220 million fixed line customers. .

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 2007 it lost 2.7 million user due to competition from cell phone companies.

China Netcom is 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 operates in 10 northern provinces and has 210,000 employees and $4.1 billion in revenues. 2002

China Telecom and China Netcom hope 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.

Cell Phone Companies in China

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Karaoke cell phone

China Mobile and China Unicom are the only cellular carriers in China. Both are based in Beijing. They have expanded aggressively in recent years by scraping charges for incoming calls and moving into towns and villages.

China Mobile is China’s No 1 telecom company, the world’s largest telecom company and the world’s largest cell phone operator in terms of network capacity and number of customers. China Mobile dominates the Chinese market. It made 112.8 billion yuan (about $15 billion) in profit in 2008. It had 554 million subscribers as of June 2010. In 2001 it had 114,000 employees and $16.2 billion in revenues. It had a deal with Vodaphone.

In 2006, China Mobile was named as the forth most valuable brand in the world. Some think its stock is highly inflated. It is worth 41 percent more than AT&T (2007) but only brings in two thirds of its revenue. The company had a profit of $8.4 billion for the first six months of 2010. Growth is slowing as a result market saturation. In August 2010, China Mobile announced that going to form a tie up with Xinhua News Agency to create a search engine for cell phones.

China Unicom is China’s No. 2 cellular phone company and China’s 3rd largest telecom company. Formed in in 1994, it had 148 million accounts in October 2009.i down from 160 million in 2007, and 90,000 employees and $4.5 billion in revenues in 2001. NBA basketball star Yao Ming is their primary pitchman. It is struggling to attract new users.

Competition has been very fierce between these companies and some smaller, upstart companies anxious to grab a share of this lucrative business. In some extreme cases executives of one company have ordered thugs to cut the lines or rough up employees of rival companies. Consumers have benefitted by the competition and enjoy low phone and Internet rates.

There are 30 domestic cell phone makers. China Mobile and China Telecom are the largest cell phone makers in China.

TCL Mobile Communications is a Chinese company that has done very well in the cell phone market, in part by making products geared for the Chinese market, even producing diamond-studded models for the Beijing elite.

Huawei, See Industries

China Mobile Official Sentenced to Death

A former executive at China Mobile, one of this country’s biggest state-owned telecommunications companies, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve Friday for accepting bribes, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency. [Source: David Barboza , New York Times July 22, 2011]

David Barboza wrote in the New York Times Zhang Chunjiang, the former vice chairman of China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator by subscribers, was charged with accepting more than $1.15 million in bribes while working at a series of state-run telecom companies between 1994 and 2009, when he was removed from his post. The two-year reprieve means that with good behavior his sentence could be commuted to life in prison. The sentence, which was handed down by a court in north China’s Hebei province, is the latest development in an unfolding corruption investigation into this country’s powerful telecom oligopoly.

While state executives and government officials are regularly arrested on corruption charges, only a handful have received the death penalty in recent years. In 2007, the head of China’s Food and Drug Administration was executed for corruption and failing to protect consumers. In 2009, the former chairman of Sinopec, the Chinese oil giant, was also sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for accepting millions of dollars in bribes. And this week, two former vice mayors in China were executed for accepting millions of dollars worth of bribes.

Beijing is in the midst of a major corruption sweep ahead of a leadership change expected next year. In some cases, analysts say those charged with corruption may be singled out because of their relationships with high-ranking officials who are engaged in power struggles.

Recently, prosecutors have focused their attention on the telecom industry. At least seven other executives from China Mobile are under investigation in corruption cases, according to the nation’s state-run news media. And investigators are also looking into the role of several prominent Chinese businessmen, including Zeng Liqing, one of the founders of Tencent, a top Chinese Internet company, according to Caixin magazine, one of the nation’s most respected publications.

State-run news media said that Mr. Zhang, the 53-year-old former China Mobile executive, confessed to his crimes and therefore was given a penalty mitigated by the two-year reprieve. Xinhua said Mr. Zhang took the bribes while working as deputy director of the Liaoning Provincial Postal Administration, and also while working as general manager of the China Netcom Group and party chief and deputy general manager of China Mobile.

Foreign Telecommunication Companies in China

Foreign telecommunication companies were expected to be big winners when China was admitted to the WTO and foreign companies were allowed to invest in Chinese telecommunications firms and restrictions on cell phone use within China were dropped.

Foreigners are barred from owning majority control of long distance, cellular, Internet and other service ventures.

Motorola is one of the top companies in China. As of 2002, Motorola it was the biggest cell phone maker in China. Their pagers and cell phones are everywhere.

Cell phone companies are waiting impatiently for China to chose the third generation technology so they can begin marketing their systems.

Baidu and Google are shifting their battle from the Internet to China’s mobile phone search market. As of late of 2009 the two companies were tied with 26 percent each.

Introduction of Iphones in China

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Apple began marketing the iPhone in China in late 2009 through the service provider Unicom, which has 2,000 stores in China. The Chinese model will be more expensive than black market models available and lack WiFi, which allows wireless Internet use, one of its key features. Some of the stiffest competition is expected to come from unlocked iPhones brought in from overseas that have WiFi. As of late 2009, 1.5 million to 2 million such phones were already in China. Unicom iPhones without WiFi start at $730, 20 percent more than black market models with WiFi. The WiFi is not available because it is banned by the government, which is trying to promote a rival Chinese system. China Mobile has release several smartphone models to compete with the iPhone. [Source: AP]

Even though much of the iPhone is manufactured in China the device was not sold there until 2009 because of problems with “regulatory bodies” over the wireless Internet function and the 3-G network its used and delays caused by Apple’s inability to strike a deal with China Mobile, China’s largest cell phone operator. In the meantime sales of smuggled, “unlocked” and counterfeited iPhones and iPhone look-likes like the M8 MiniOne were brisk. Chinese who traveled abroad have been asked by friends and relatives to bring back iPhones for them. A three-step tutorial available on the Internet shows people how it “unlock” their phones so they can be used in China.

Many Apple products are made in China by Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese firm , at a massive factory in Shenzhen. A great deal of pressure has been put employees at these factories to stay quiet about the products so as not to compromise marketing plans. In July 2009, one worker killed himself after being accused of taking an iPhone.

Post Office in China

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

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 October 2011

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