January 3, 2007

Dispatch from Shanghai: News of virtually everything

[Note: Staffer Deborah Fallows is now living with her husband in Shanghai and is sending reports every so often about the internet in China.]

Returning home to Shanghai after two weeks away, I expected to find lots of progress in much of the downtown construction. Sure enough. Just within shouting distance of our apartment, I see that the top of the 40-story building kitty-corner from us now looks complete; an eight-story complex across Nanjing Xi Lu has shed its scaffolding and revealed shiny glass windows; a massive project under People’s Square is dug and framed and supports vehicles on its ground-level paths. On the street, shops too numerous to count have opened or closed or been entirely razed by bulldozers.

What I did not expect, but certainly found, was a comparable velocity of changes in Shanghai’s virtual environment. Our morning paper, the January 1 edition of the Shanghai Daily, brought this sampling of news:

In e-government, and of particular interest to us, big headlines announced that expats can now renew residence permits online, and as of March you can view traffic violations online. In world news (which you may have missed! but which was big news here in Asia), the pan-China internet disruption caused by the Taiwan undersea earthquakes on December 27 has been 70% restored, although access to North America remains logjammed. There is also a 1/3 page-size editorial cartoon devoted to online chatters being surprised at their sudden loss of transmissions.

In mobile communications, the country’s top IT official announced the “strategic transformation” of the telecom companies from being voice service carriers to being “broadband, communication, and multimedia service providers”, including internet protocol tv, next generation networks, and instant messaging. He also projected 40% of (1.3 billion) Chinese will be using mobile phones by year’s end.

In e-commerce, Alibaba, China’s largest online marketing service, announced it will build and provide e-commerce and corporate management software products. For the most techie readers, there is a column describing 5 new products and services. The Shanghai Daily itself announced the New Year’s Day launch of its faster and fatter online version.

And finally, the first of the day’s ten newly-minted Chinese words is “qiaoboke” which means literally “bridge blog,” It describes blogs that bridge, or translate and describe, curious items from one culture to another. Blogs are an internet phenomenon of epic proportion in China, and the language is now racing to catch up with it.

By my estimate, there was an internet-related story on every other page of today’s news pages of the paper! It seems like an accurate reflection of the immediacy and breadth of IT advances in China’s big cities.