There has been an enormous explosion in the number of Chinese citizens who now have access to the Internet. In fact, the country now boasts more than half a billion connected users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center, a state-run organization.
As of December 2010, the number of online users in China was a little more than 450 million. That represents an astounding 12% growth in 2011, a growth rate that outpaces the US and nearly every other highly populated country.
But this story isn't just about abstract numbers. It is a symbol of the importance of the Internet in the lives of people in countries like China, where many have lived under oppression for most of their life.
With access to the Internet, including social networks, blogs, global news, and worldwide communications, people in China are more empowered than ever.
Among the structural changes to the Chinese government that have resulted from increased cyber activism are better reporting on air pollution and exposing a government cover-up surrounding a deadly train crash in the city of Wenzhou.
In a translated quotation from the China Media Project in Hong Kong, journalist Hu Yong summarized the importance of the explosion of Internet use in the region by saying, "The Internet cannot usher in dramatic change to political life in China, but it can promote the creation of social capital on the basis of citizen rights and duties, giving rise to and strengthening social forces independent of the Chinese state."