In March, the China Internet Network Information Centre (or CNNIC) released the 53rd Statistical Report on China’s Internet Development Status: a comprehensive twice-yearly snapshot of digital life in China.

Covering everything from device usage to China’s rural internet population, livestreaming growth to online ride-hailing, the report delves into the major trends shaping China’s internet landscape and what they mean for business, entertainment, health, and more.

Here are some key facts from the latest report.

Mobile use is virtually at 100% – other devices are trending downwards

Every year, the report reviews the breakdown of devices being used to access the internet in China. It’s not news that China’s internet is overwhelmingly mobile-oriented, but in 2023, mobile penetration reached its highest rate ever, with 99.9% of all internet users using a smartphone to go online (up from 99.8% at the end of 2022).

Other devices tracked by the report trail distantly behind, and their usage is declining. A little over a third (33.9%) of internet users in China connect through a desktop, down from 34.2% in December 2022. Laptops are less popular at 30.3%, down from 32.8% at the end of 2022.

Despite being a mobile device, tablets are in fourth place at 26.6% – this is down from 28.5% in December 2022, where the device saw a brief uptick in usage compared to 2021’s 27.4% (from which they’ve now declined even further).

Bite-sized entertainment is in

The popularity of TikTok has given rise to a widespread short-form video trend across video and social media platforms, as rivals move to adopt short videos to match TikTok (this has sometimes been referred to as “TikTokification”).

In China, home of course to TikTok’s parent Bytedance and its sibling app, Douyin, short videos are well and truly king, with 96.4% of internet users consuming short video according to the CNNIC’s report.

Even TV dramas are becoming bite-sized, with the report pointing to the boom in mini- or micro-dramas, which China’s online platforms are increasingly moving to support. Major players like Tencent Video and Kuaishou are producing their own micro-dramas, and new apps like ReelShort, DramaBox, and ShortTV have dedicated themselves to these miniature serials.

This trend might not stay confined to China, either: ReelShort adapts dramas for an international audience, and briefly overtook TikTok to become the most-downloaded app in the US App Store in November. The widely-publicised demise of Quibi – a US-grown short-form streaming platform – might inspire scepticism as to whether this will last; but several years on, and with TikTok’s influence only growing, perhaps the time is ripe for a full-on micro-entertainment wave.

China’s internet is still urban-dominated – but growth is coming from rural users

According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, by the end of 2023, 66% of China’s residents were living in cities. The urban-rural divide online, meanwhile, has always been tilted much more heavily towards China’s urban population, but as internet penetration in China increases, the growth is coming from rural China.

As of December 2023, China’s internet penetration sits at 77.5%, up from 75.6% in December 2022. Over the same time period, the percentage of urban internet users has gone down – from 71.1% to 70.2% – while the percentage of rural internet users has increased from 28.9% to 29.8%. It’s not hard to imagine a future when this ratio resembles the offline balance even more closely.

One of China’s foremost ecommerce companies, Pinduoduo, built its success on catering to an untapped rural demographic, which has led other major internet companies to turn their attention towards China’s rural internet users as well in a bid to compete. The CNNIC’s report shows that the opportunity there is only growing.

More than half of China’s internet population shop through live commerce

A high proportion of China’s internet population are shoppers – more than four fifths, or 83.8%. This is similar to other countries like the US and UK, which also sit around 80%; but one distinctively Chinese trend that isn’t seen in the west (or not in the same numbers) is live commerce, in which consumers tune into a livestream and purchase the items featured.

Well over half (54.7%) of China’s internet population shops through livestreams, according to the Statistical Report on China’s Internet Development, showing that the popularity of live commerce as a shopping channel hasn’t abated.

The report also highlights an interesting trend of seasonal live commerce, with sellers responding to seasonal purchase trends – such as demand for down jackets – with dedicated broadcasts.

Lessons in live commerce: Getting started as a foreign brand in China