Internet use has been expanding at such an alarming speed in China that the traditional friendly greeting of "Have you eaten?" has been replaced by "Have you surfed the net?"
"The Internet has totally changed the Chinese people's way of life," says Xu Xiaolan, of Beijing Broad Band Net Company. "Without leaving your room, you can do so much online ranging from education, meeting people, playing video games and shopping."
There are now 46 million net surfers in China, compared with 8.9 million two years ago, according to China Internet Information Center.
More and more ordinary Chinese are participating in government decision-making and legislation via the Internet because it is convenient, efficient and cheap.
While drafting the outlines for China's 10th Five-Year Plan, the State Development Planning Commission received more than 10,000 submissions -- of which over 300 were adopted -- from ordinary people through special websites.
The volume of e-commerce keeps growing every year. Commoditiessuch as computers, daily necessities, books, audio and video discsare all available online.
A new survey shows online sales will rise to 3.2 billion US dollars by 2004.
The Internet has played an important role when people look for new jobs with 35 percent of the jobseekers finding work online.
Economic specialists believe economic growth in different areas is closely related to the development of the information industry: the greater the Internet access, the faster the economic growth.
Internet business is greater in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Wuhan and Chengdu. Though most net surfers are from urban areas, a growing number of rural people, who make up 800 million of the 1.3 billion population, have begun to surf the net where they can learn more about the world and how to sell their farm produce.
Internet use follows no rational demographic guidelines, with males below the age of 35 being the main users, while most net surfers have below-college education and low incomes, says the China Internet Information Center.
However, some young people and school students are so obsessed with the net that they are lost in the virtual world. A survey conducted in east China's Jiangsu Province showed 80 percent of failed college students were avid net users.
Psychiatric councilor Liu Xiaolin believes that the net has become a major obstacle in youth development and many problems have been caused by its inconsistent administration.
Indeed, many youngsters spend a large amount of time chatting and playing games online. The Internet, with both good and bad content, will have a negative impact on the spiritual lives of inexperienced surfers, says Liu.
To tackle those problems, China has taken action to step up administration of the net, including promulgation of a number of regulations.
In accordance with the regulations, Internet service providers are not allowed to publicize cults or superstitions, and must not object to fundamental principles of China's Constitution or violate other laws, regarding state secrets, national security and honor or benefit.
In the meantime, it is forbidden to spread content suspected of inciting minors to acts of social disorder or to break the law, orto harm their physical or mental health.
Xu Youbai, an official with the China National Net Civilizing Project, says these regulations conform to standard international practices, but he admits that government departments in China still lack experience in regulating the net.
"As a matter of act, some Western countries have much more detailed restrictions on the Internet," says Xu. "Both the United States and Europe have enacted laws regarding rampant online pornography, fraud and defamation."
The Chinese government has also been striving to speed up construction of the Internet, in a bid to make it play a more active role in daily life and work.
Governmental organizations, medium-sized and small businesses are all going online, along with educational and health care programs.
Wang Yuesheng, an Internet bar owner in Beijing, says he endorses the government's measures. "They help standardize administration and promote the development of the Internet."
A total of 57 Chinese academics have appealed to the government to work out plans for the construction and research of a new-generation Internet, and now the State Development Planning Commission is coordinating related work in this regard.