Dotted with old-style houses, Wuzhen in Zhejiang province has long been a tourist attraction.
This month, the ancient town welcomed more than 2,000 guests, including state leaders, government officials and Internet titans. They were there not for sightseeing, but to attend the second annual World Internet Conference (WIC) from Dec 16 to 18.
Wuzhen was designated last year as WIC’s permanent venue for its rich history and great Internet practices, according to Lu Wei, director of the Cyberspace Administration of China.
Its 425 free Wi-Fi hot spots enable the Internet to cover almost the whole town. It also has 26 free bike-rental spots. And unlike in other cities where bike rentals require a specially designed card, the bikes in Wuzhen can be rented simply by scanning a QR code with a smartphone.
Wang Wen, a tourist from Shanghai, told China Daily that she was astonished by the widespread adoption of the Internet in Wuzhen.
“I was buying a bag of mahua (fried dough twists, a Chinese traditional food) in the town’s scenic area and was surprised that the seller, apparently in her 60s, encouraged me to use Alipay,” she said. Wang found that almost every shop suggests using digital payment.
Of course, the WIC is also making full use of the city’s Internet infrastructure. Mobile apps and conference cloud services are omnipresent at WIC events. Even an Internet medical service is available for those who are in need.
Leading the digital world
These facilities embody two of WIC’s major goals: to review the China’s achievements in Internet development and to look into the future by displaying the latest technical inventions in the area.
Over the past 20 years, China’s Internet sector has grown drastically. According to a report by the Chinese Academy of Cyberspace, the number of active Internet users in China has reached 690 million this year, outnumbering the entire US population two to one. China’s online sales on the Singles’ Day alone is four times more than that of Black Friday in the United States.
China is also a world leader in sectors such as mobile Internet and Internet of Things (IoT). Chinese mobile operators have developed IoT-related services in healthcare, transportation, education and beyond.
But China still has a long way to go before it becomes an Internet power, as President Xi Jinping has stressed on different occasions.
China lags behind because of its insufficient intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and lack of innovative and creative ideas, said Liu Quan, a senior researcher at the China Center for Information Industry Development.
“The government needs to update its governance philosophy for the Internet age by, for example, putting greater emphasis on IPR protection... China’s Internet enterprises must invest more energy and resources in research and development and abandon the old habit of following in the footsteps of their foreign counterparts,” Liu wrote in China Daily.