China has over 21 million .cn domain names. The number of China-registered domain names rose from around 30,000 in 1997 to 115,000 in 2000 to around 800,000 in 2007. Even though China has a lot of restrictions, the Internet scene is very lively, varied and comprehensive and is far ahead of India, where there are more press freedoms, and even the U.S. in many ways.

In China, foreign Internet corporations are much weaker than Chinese ones. Jian Junbo wrote in the Asian Times in 2011, “For instance, in place of YouTube there is Tudou or Youku, with instant access to Avatar or the latest episode of Lost. For every Google there is a Baidu that offers Lady Gaga's new hit or the Pink Floyd discography for download. Facebook has an alternative in Kaixin, Amazon has Taobao, Paypal has Alipay.

Many worry that China will experience a dot.com bubble like the one that struck the United States in the early 2000s. Billions of dollars of venture capital and foreign investment have flowed into Chinese tech companies with only a handful of them making any money. Even successful Internet companies like Sohu.com. Baidu.com and Ctrip.com have traditionally not made that much money even though they had insanely high valuations dozens of times higher than their projected yearly earnings. Baidu.com’s price-to-earnings ratio in 2008, for instance, was 159 times higher than its 2007 earnings compared to 50 times for Google.

According to Statista, 2020, China's online advertising revenue reached US$144 billion in 2020, an 18.6 percent increase from the previous year. Web advertising was growing at rate of 60 to 70 percent a year in the later 2000s and reached $1.7 billion in 2008. At that time, according to Google, less than 2 million of China’s 30 million to 40 million small and medium-sized companies were able to sell their products online.

Facebook and Google are often dismissed as being irrelevant in China. But they do have a presence. Both Google and Facebook have around 14 million users in China, which is not bad considering that access is restricted. But on the lists of top apps in China, neither Google or Face Facebook breaks in the top 100. Google is No. 117 on one list and Facebook ranks No. 108. On the same list Facebook Messenger is 138th, WhatsApp is 52nd, Chrome is 130th and YouTube is 131st. [Source: Henrik Saetre, AdChina, October 2019]

Popular Websites in China

Popular websites in China include Tencent.com, Sina.com, Sohu.com, and Ctrips.com. Baidu is the Google of China. It is the most popular search engine site there. Momo is a popular dating and matchmaking site. Tudou was once called the YouTube of China (Tudou is potato, as in couch potato, in Chinese). Now Youku is regarded as the YouTube of China. 163.com is a widely-used web portal site whose primary draw is online gaming, The majority of the visitors visit the site to play online games.

Tencent is a social networking and gaming giant. Headquartered in Shenzhen, it one of the highest grossing multimedia companies in the world based on revenue. It is also the largest company in the video game industry in the world based on its investments. It operates the instant messengers Tencent QQ and WeChat, and QQ.com and also owns Tencent Music. Its stock value in July 2008 was $15 billion, making it one of most valuable Internet companies in the world at that time. In comparison Amazon.com was worth $30 billion. In 2021, its revenues were US$86.84 billion, its operating income was US$42.11 billion, its net income was US$35.32 billion and its total assets were US$249.98 billion.

QQ is a popular networking site run by Tencent that has a popular instant message platform and offers videos, online shopping, search and games. Founded by a man named Pony Ma, it was described by Time magazine as network that “fundamentally changed the way China’s youth meet, share ideas and entertain themselves.” Essentially an online community, it allows users to chat, make friends, and play games. Its instant messaging service has cute animations for popular expressions. It had more than 100 million users in 2007. At that time in China you were often more likely to get someone’s QQ number than their e-mail address.

Sohu.com and its subsidiaries offer advertising, a search engine (Sogou.com), on-line multiplayer gaming (ChangYou.com) and other services. It had $86 billion in revenues in 2017 and over 7,000 employees in 2012. Sohu was China’s third largest Web portal in 2010 and aimed to be a major search engine at that time. It had income of around $20 million a year on sales around $150 million in 2010. Charles Zhang, who founded and runs Sohu.com,, was educated at MIT and has hosted his own talk show.

Sina.com is a popular portal and operates the popular Sina Weibo microblog service and Sina Mobile. It is less of a major online player than it used to be. Its revenue were $1.584 billion in 2017 and had 63,400 employees at that time. Founded in 2001, Sina.com was the largest Chinese-language infotainment web portal, allowing users to check out news, discuss issues with others, and browse photos.

Top Websites in China

Top Websites in China based on monthly unique viewers (UVs ) in June 2019
No., Website — Category: monthly UVs
1) baidu.com — Search Engines: 468,672,000
2) qq.com — Portal Sites: 429,078,000
3) taobao.com — Online Shopping: 344,230,000
4) so.com — Search Engines: 328,335,000
5) tmall.com — Online Shopping: 268,249,000
6) 360.cn — Others: 230,685,000
7) sina.com.cn — Portal Sites: 316,848,000
8) ifeng.com — Portal Sites: 270,303,000
9) sogou.com — Search Engines: 255,054,000
10) 163.com — Portal Sites: 213,039,000
[Source:iResearch September 9,2019]

11) sohu.com — Portal Sites: 271,589,000
12) iqiyi.com — Online Video: 202,219,000
13) bilibili.com — Entertainment: 113,091,000
14) jd.com — Online Shopping: 141,825,000
15) eastday.com — News Portals: 212,761,000
16) weibo.com — Social Networking: 155,373,000
17) 2345.com — Directory Sites: 95,972,000
18) youku.com — Online Video: 165,984,000
19) hao123.com — Directory Sites: 80,997,000
20) mgtv.com — Online Video: 126,774,000

21) eastmoney.com — Finanace: 57,583,000; 22) autohome.com.cn — Automobile: 88,796,000; 23) suning.com — Online Shopping: 61,538,000; 24) douban.com — Social Networking: 94,433,000; 25) 360kan.com — Directory Sites: 80,778,000; 26) 360doc.com — Others: 102,233,000; 27) cctv.com — Online TV Stations: 56,464,000; 28) douyu.com — Online Games: 39,967,000; 29) pcauto.com.cn — Automobile: 86,099,000; 30) fun.tv — Online Video: 106,922,000; 31) smzdm.com — Local Information: 47,948,000; 32) 4399.com — Others: 45,738,000; 33) pptv.com — Online Video: 74,743,000; 34) bitauto.com — Automobile: 66,021,000; 35) xcar.com.cn — Automobile: 65,017,000; 36) huya.com — Online Games: 36,427,000; 37) dygod.com — Others: 53,972,000; 38) news18a.com — Automobile: 35,819,000; 39) china.com — Portal Sites: 78,064,000; 40) docin.com — Others: 72,890,000;

41) zhihu.com — Blogging Forums: 54,537,000; 42) 126.com — E-mail: 39,933,000; 43) toutiao.com — News Portals: 66,472,000; 44) alimama.com — Others: 42,062,000; 45) duba.com — Directory Sites: 28,302,000; 46) qihoo.com — Blogging Forums: 53,413,000; 47) alipay.com — Online Banking & Payment: 49,447,000; 48) huanqiu.com — News Portals: 65,339,000; 49) 1688.com — B2B: 56,233,000; 50) google.com — Search Engines: 62,770,000; 51) weather.com.cn — Local Information: 32,356,000; 52) zol.com.cn — IT: 68,990,000; 53) 10086.cn — Corporate Homepages: 49,157,000; 54) mama.cn — Local Information: 26,428,000; 55) tianya.cn — Blogging Forums: 51,347,000; 56) people.com.cn — News Portals: 56,845,000; 57) microsoft.com — Corporate Homepages: 65,952,000; 58) 58.com — Classifieds: 47,681,000; 59) cheshi.com — Automobile: 13,593,000; 60) doc88.com — Others: 56,897,000;

61) ctrip.com — Travel: 49,648,000; 62) taofen8.com — Others: 10,155,000; 63) youtube.com — Online Video: 32,255,000; 64) pconline.com.cn — IT: 60,825,000; 65) etao.com — Search Engines: 29,176,000; 66) chinatax.gov.cn — Others: 26,783,000; 67) ccb.com.cn — Online Banking & Payment: 38,880,000; 68) youth.cn — News Portals: 41,423,000; 69) dianping.com — Local Information: 44,882,000; 70) icbc.com.cn — Online Banking & Payment: 31,187,000; 71) csdn.net — IT: 39,102,000; 72) 189.cn — Corporate Homepages: 40,509,000; 73) 95599.cn — Online Banking & Payment: 18,895,000; 74) bing.com — Search Engines: 28,571,000; 75) zhibo8.cc — Sports: 24,496,000; 76) zhaopin.com — Online Recruitment: 34,117,000; 77) google.cn — Search Engines: 30,130,000; 78) cnblogs.com — IT: 33,983,000; 79) chinaz.com — IT: 37,977,000;

80) ali213.net — Online Games: 29,134,000; 81) fang.com — Real Estate: 43,529,000; 82) 2144.com — Others: 23,424,000; 83) cnki.net — Others: 24,424,000; 84) 3dmgame.com — Online Games: 26,067,000; 85) anjuke.com — Real Estate: 35,174,000; 86) tudou.com — Online Video: 36,972,000; 87) 58che.com — Automobile: 35,871,000; 88) mi.com — Corporate Homepages: 32,608,000; 89) 12306.cn — Travel: 32,688,000; 90) 51job.com — Online Recruitment: 26,105,000; 91) 52pojie.cn — Blogging Forums: 27,710,000; 92) 51credit.com — Finanace: 28,477,000; 93) hupu.com — Sports: 22,803,000; 94) liqu.com — Others: 5,420,000; 95) tmall.hk — Online Shopping: 31,337,000; 96) 120ask.com — Health: 36,505,000; 97) ourgame.com — Online Games: 9,287,000; 98) miui.com — Others: 34,190,000; 99) 10010.com — Corporate Homepages: 24,384,000; 100) cntv.cn — Online TV Stations: 33,412


Meitu is an app that has been very popular in China for some time. Launched in 2014, it was the most popular platform of its kind in China in 2017, with nearly eight billion views per month at that time. It was one of the first apps to bring photo touch-ups to a large audience. Users on Meitu simply upload their pictures and are able to airbrush and edit these pictures so they look more beautiful or handsome. By the late 2010s almost all the selfies shared in China had undergo this process. Meitu also allows users to upload these photos directly to other social media platforms. In the early 2000s, Meitu announced that it is going to focus more on the social aspects of Meitu and planned to become a full-fledged social media platform. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]

Describing an influencer nammed CCHoney that used Meitu as her primary platform. In her videos, which last anywhere from fifteen seconds to five minutes, she lip-synchs to sentimental ballads, dances to hip-hop, stages mini sketches, undergoes beauty treatments, and lolls seductively in bed. Petite, with a delicately tapering face, she can play the ingénue, the diva, or the girl next door, and costume changes come at dizzying speed. “Sometimes I look like something out of a dream,” Honey said, flashing a smile of dazzling bleached teeth. “Other times I look like a mental patient. But a pretty mental patient.” HoneyCC understands the charm that comes from undercutting perfection. Romantic walks with wholesome-looking young men are upended by pratfalls. Behind-the-scenes takes, in which she talks to the camera with her mouth full, foster a sense of casual intimacy. In a sketch at a go-kart track, she struggles to remove her helmet; when her head emerges, makeup is smeared all over her face. [Source: The New Yorker, December 18, 2017]

“I first met HoneyCC, in May, in Xiamen, a port city on the Taiwan Strait. We were at the headquarters of Meipai’s parent company, Meitu, Inc. Its first product, in 2008, was a photo-editing app, also named Meitu (“beautiful picture,” in Chinese), which young people seized upon as a means of enhancing their selfies. The company now has a battery of apps, with names like BeautyPlus, BeautyCam, and SelfieCity, which smooth out skin, exaggerate features, brighten eyes.

“The apps are installed on more than a billion phones — mostly in China and the rest of Asia, but also increasingly in the West, where Meitu seeks to expand its presence. The company sells a range of smartphones, too, designed to take particularly flattering selfies: the front-facing selfie cameras have more powerful sensors and processors than those on regular phones, and beautifying apps start working their magic the moment a picture has been taken. Phone sales accounted for ninety-three per cent of Meitu’s revenue last year, and the company is now valued at six billion dollars. Its I.P.O., a year ago, was the largest Internet-company offering that the Hong Kong stock exchange had seen in nearly a decade. Worldwide, Meitu’s apps generate some six billion photos a month, and it has been estimated that more than half the selfies uploaded on Chinese social media have been edited using Meitu’s products.

Douyu, Popular Gaming Platform

Douyu is a popular gaming site and online live-streaming platform designed for sharing and commentary on video games. Founded by Zhang Wenming in 2013 and headquartered in Wuhan, it is mainly for users to broadcast e-sports competitions, showcase strategies, and share content related to videos. It issimilar to Twitch in the West. According to SimilarWeb, Douyu’s total visits reached 95.6 million in December 2018 with an average visit duration of around 8 minutes. As of September 2018, the platform had 7.6 million daily active users on the platform. The majority of the traffic (91.4 percent) to their website is from China. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]

Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: Although gaming is the main focus of the platform, videos with content ranging from sports, variety shows and entertainment can also be found on the platform. Douyu is partnered with Tencent, after Tencent became its largest shareholder in March 2016. As one of the largest game publishers in China, this partnership between Douyu and Tencent clearly makes sense. The company also holds live e-sports competitions in the hopes of further developing the industry.

Toutiao and Its Tailor-Made News

Toutiao — owned by ByteDance — is a news and information content platform that uses an algorithm to analyse aspects of users and content to best match the two and provide news and content tailored for each individual user. There were 240 million devices with toutiao installed in November 2018; 120 million daily active users in September 2017, 260 million monthly active users in September 2019. As of September active users spent 76 minutes on the app daily (comparing to 66 minutes on WeChat during the same period). [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]

Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: Toutiao is a news distribution app that focuses on providing all kinds of information using complex algorithms. The company has over 4,000 partners producing content daily. The AI will first analyze each user regarding their locations, click and browser history. Toutiao then recommends the best-fit articles and videos to users accordingly. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]

Toutiao adopts a different style of giving the news to people. Additionally, they provide short-videos, funny jokes, and featured articles to keep users entertained. The platform ensures each user’s experience to be personal and distinct. Over 85 percent of Toutiao users are young people from ages 18 to 30 years old. 37.8 percent of them are freelancers, self-employed or private company owners, concentrated in first or second-tier cities.

Chinese Pay Sites

Paid music downloads were virtually non-existent in China in the 2000s. Apple’s iTunes was not available. Google launched a music search service in 2008 called Music One Box that allowed users to access music legally online in a forum backed by some record labels and supported by advertising revenues. That was shut down when Google left China in teh ear;y 2010s. Access to iTunes was blocked in China in 2008 after the Art of Peace Foundation, a Tibetan activist group, invited Olympic athletes to download a free compilation called “Songs for Tibet” with songs by Sting, Alanis Morissette and others.

Over time more and more Chinese began reading books online via pay sites. Sites such as qidan.com charged readers about 1 cent per 1,000 characters to read books. In the late 2000s, the site said that it had more than 100 authors who earn more than $15,000 a year from their pay-online works. Some churned out new 9,000-character works every day because that is what their readers demanded. As of 2008, qidian.com had 4,000 contracted authors and 2 million paying customers. A typical customers paid $7.31 a month to access a dozen or so books. That money is often paid out of respect to the writers because the same works are often available for free in file-sharing sites.

In the late 1990s there was a lot of Internet venture capital money floating around in China and investors were anxious investing Internet start-ups. By the early 2000s that money had all but disappeared. In 2004 online revenue — mostly from advertising and from Internet gaming and wireless services — grew 35 percent and reached $1.1 billion. In December 2006, China signed a web copyright deal with U.S. and British industry associations. The associations provided China with lists of products they wanted to see protected and handed over information about private cases.

Video Streaming in China

China is home to the world’s largest online population, with a video-streaming market also among the worlds’ largest. According to data from China Internet Network Information Center, as of March 2020, the number of live-stream users in China was 560 million, an increase of 163 million from the end of 2018, accounting for 62 percent of all online users According to Statista, the value of China’s streaming market reached $177 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $725 billion in 2025

YouTube-style sites became popular in China in the 2000s. One of the most watched videos on the Internet in late 2007 was a clip from an Olympics promotion event to rebrand the CCTV sports channel as the “Olympics Channel” in which the wife of a popular anchor on the channel crashed the event, grabbed the microphone and accused the anchor of sleeping with another woman. In January 2008, a Chinese couple sued a subway operator after a security video at a subway station showing them necking on a subway platform was downloaded on YouTube and received thousands of hits.

According to the Los Angeles Times in 2012: Internet TV offers spicier fare than that found on China's bland state-run channels and gives people the convenience of when-you-want it viewing in a nation largely devoid of on-demand programming, DVRs or TiVos.” [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2012]

David Barboza wrote in the New York Times“In China, Internet TV occupies a unique position largely because it serves as an alternative to what many consider bland state-run programming. Global media companies like Disney are often restricted from winning television programming slots and are allowed to show only a limited number of films in China. Piracy is rampant in China, and TV viewership among young people is in decline. [Source:David Barboza, New York Times, July 18, 2010]

Video Streaming Takes Off in China in the Early 2010s

In 2010, every month, about 300 million people in China used their computer to watch Chinese TV miniseries, Japanese sitcoms, Korean dramas and American films and television series like Twilight and Gossip Girl . Live streaming of the 2010 World Cup drew huge online audience in China. David Barboza wrote in the New York Times. “Analysts say young people in China are even starting to favor free laptop-viewing over TV sets, in part as a way to make an end run around regulators, who often bar state-run TV networks from broadcasting shows that do not meet the approval of the Communist Party.”[Source: David Barboza, New York Times, July 18, 2010]

“While Internet TV in the United States is in a nascent state, in China, it is already drawing a huge share of the world biggest Internet market, where an estimated 400 million people are on the Web. A market research firm based in Shanghai, iResearch, says advertising on Internet TV and Web video sites is expected to reach $346 million this year, up from $83 million in 2008. Big video sites like Youku and Tudou are spending aggressively to license content, produce original programming and buy the bandwidth necessary to store and broadcast content.

While most early video sites here focused on user-generated content or amateur videos posted by users many of those sites recently evolved by offering licensed content, in-house productions, and loads of pirated films and television series that are uploaded to the sites by users... For instance, some of America most popular shows, including CSI, appear on Youku.com and Tudou.com just hours after being broadcast in the United States, usually with Chinese subtitles. Analysts say they do not know how much of the Internet TV content is pirated, but the fact that many of the sites continue to broadcast pirated television shows and films is a complicating factor. Most executives for the video sites say they are licensing a growing share of content and trying to stop users from uploading pirated content to their sites.

China’s big Web portals and search engines including Baidu are scrambling to form competing video sites, many of which plan to license content from the United States and elsewhere. “Everyone wants to get in on this market now,” says Li Yifei, chairwoman of VivaKi Greater China, part of the advertising and communications giant the Publicis Groupe, told the New York Times. “Suddenly there a change of attitude because people are watching a lot of online video.”

Strong challenges from newcomers to Internet TV could create a messy battle over the next few years. For instance, Baidu.com recently formed Qiyi, and if Baidu begins directing most video searches to its own site, that could harm other sites, since Baidu is China dominant search engine. Advertising agencies really want to transfer their advertising budgets to online video sites, there no question about it, Alan Yan, founder and chief executive at AdChina, said. But first, the video sites need to solve some of the copyright issues on the content.

Video Streaming Services and Companies in China

China’s biggest streaming platform in iqiyi. Controlled by search engine giant Baidu, it went public on the Nasdaq exchange in March 2018. youku.com, commonly known as the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, is owned by Alibaba'

Leading online video platforms in China in January 2022 (million of monthly unique visitors)
1) iqiyi.com: 168.29168.29
2) qq.com: 157.71157.71
3) youku.com: 139.02139.02
4) sohu.com: 127.96127.96
[Source: Statista]

According to Marketing in China: China offers a diversified ecosystem for online video content, with no single service yet coming close to attaining a market share comparable to Netflix’s 87 percent in the U.S. Netflix doesn’t operate in China. Instead, the bulk of the domestic market is split between iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent Video (qq.com) , which are respectively controlled by the country’s “big three” internet companies: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. [Source:Marketing in China, March 16, 2022]

The online video market in China is highly competitive. The No. 1 position position always come down to a battle between iQiYi, Tencent Video, and Youku. Alibaba’s Youku dominated the online video market for a long time, but its grip has slipped in recent years. Tencent Video was leading the competition in the late 2010s. Tencent Video was the leading online video platform market in the first quarter of 2020, with 900 million average monthly active users and 112 million premium subscriptions. China’s biggest streaming platform in 2022 was iqiyi. Controlled by search engine giant Baidu, it went public on the Nasdaq exchange in March 2018. youku.com, commonly known as the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, is owned by Alibaba' [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]

Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: As of October 2018, Tencent video achieved a record-high market penetration rate of 48 percent, with IQiYi right behind it with 44.6 percent. Youku remained low in comparison with 30.8 percent. The difference in daily active users is even more striking, with Tencent Video leading the pack with 116 Million daily active users, as compared to IQiYi’s 85.6 million and Youku’s 37.5 million. While IQiYi and Youku’s numbers are nothing to sneeze at Tencent Video has clearly taken the lead in this market. We’ll see how the market progresses as we continue into 2020.

In 2012, Youku, China’s leading online-video site, bought Tudou, the number two video site that year. At that time neither firm had yet to make a profit, though stockmarkets in America, where both are listed, value the combination at $3.5 billion.“The deal’s “strategic and valuation rationale”, Youku CEO Victor Koo told analysts. The goal, he said, is to “establish a clear and dominant leadership in the online video sector in China”. Both brands were kept, but they no longer bid against each other (in the past they had sued each over alleged copyright infringement). The sites also share content and redirect users to each other. [Source: The Economist, March 17, 2012]

Rules on the Streaming of Foreign TV Shows in China

As of March 2015, every foreign TV show and movie shown on Chinese online streaming sites had to be approved by authorities or else the site was in risk of going offline. Also since that time, licensed foreign content cannot be greater than 30 percent of the total domestic content licensed in the previous year. [Source: Louise Watt, Associated Press, September 5, 2014]

According to Associated Press: The Chinese government’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said that video sites must register their foreign content with their local broadcasting authority before the end of March 2015. Companies must obtain a screening license or distribution license for each TV drama or film and those that do not have one will not be allowed to be broadcast, it said.

“The purpose is to "help online culture grow and prosper," it said adding that this could be achieved by "promoting excellent Chinese traditional culture" and encouraging websites "to import a moderate amount of foreign films and TV shows that are healthy in content, finely produced and promote truth, virtue and beauty."

“Beijing has in the past allowed private video websites to operate with few of the restrictions that state-run TV broadcasters face, possibly to avoid stifling what was seen as a promising high-tech industry. But in April, the government's broadcast regulator issued a surprise order to online streaming companies to stop showing four American TV shows, including sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" and political and legal drama "The Good Wife."

Image Sources:

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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