Social Impacts of Mobile Phones on the Life of the Chinese People

Social Impacts of Mobile Phones on the Life of the Chinese People

Yushi (Boni) Li (Northern Kentucky University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch062


With the introduction of mobile phones to the Chinese society in the early 1990s, there has been a great impact on the lives of ordinary Chinese people. Mobile phones have increased the convenience they have in their daily lives and more people are able to establish and expand their communicational links with others beyond their geographical locations. This is especially true since the introduction of text messaging and WeChat. The development of mobile phones has significantly helped the Chinese advance their views in the process of globalization. However, mobile phone technology has greatly reduced the traditional Chinese methods of face-to-face social interactions within families, neighborhoods, and communities. The social impacts and changes brought about by mobile phones need to be analyzed and evaluated. This article introduces the current situation of mobile phones in China from a sociological perspective. It discusses both positive and negative social impacts of mobile phones on the lives of the Chinese people.
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History Of Telecommunication And The Acceptance Of Mobile Phones In China

The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. The public telecommunication services were not well developed until the early 1990s (Li, 2009). Before then the majority of families did not have access to landline telephones in their homes. People depended on public telephone services to communicate to others. However, with such inconvenient communication channels, most people preferred to correspond through the mail to families and friends (People’s Daily Online, 2002). As economic development progressed in China in the early 1990s, home phones became more accessible. By the end of July, 2002, there were over 200 million home landline phone users, which ranked China first in the world (People’s Daily Online, 2002). With the development of telecommunication infrastructure and businesses, telephone communications had become the new way for social interaction. At the same time people were adopting telephones they were also adopting the use of pagers because this allowed them to become mobile and still communicate with others from a distance (Li, 2009). The ability to communicate with others on the move has laid the foundation for the adaptation of mobile phones.

According to People’s Daily Online (2002), mobile telephone service was opened to the public in 1988. In 1997, there were approximately 10 million mobile phone users and in 2002, there were 180 million subscribers. Therefore, China was ranked first in the world for mobile phones also (People’s Daily Online, 2002). By 2005, the number increased to 240 million mobile phone users (Branigan, 2010). The ability to communicate with others while on the go in daily life had become a major requirement among people during the period of economic development. When mobile phones (手机or shouji in Chinese) were introduced into China, the advanced technology was immediately accepted. The major reason is because of the convenience to communicate to others no matter where you are (Li & Ji, 2005). Today, China’s total population has reached 1.35 billion. As of 2013 there were 1.22 billion mobile phones (The Economic Times, 2013). Many individuals own more than one mobile phone and 87% of the services are purchased using prepaid calling cards. This is quite a large percentage when compared to the fact that only 20% of Americans choose prepaid services (Shan, 2010).

Compared with America and European countries, Chinese consumers are more willing to adopt new mobile phone technology and the usage of the phones is more frequent (Shan, 2010). For example, in 2013 China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest market for smart phones (Kan, 2013). With the expansion of advanced communication technology, internet services for mobile phones are now available. For example, many people now read newspapers from their smart phones instead of purchasing them from a newsstand (Chen & Xia, 2007; Kuang, 2005). According to the statistics (, 2013), there were 591 million Chinese internet users, among which 464 million of them accessed the internet by way of mobile phones. In the early 1990s, there were very few Chinese people who knew about the “worldwide web”. For example, there were only 45 million Chinese who surfed on the internet at least one hour a week in 2002, ranking third in the world (People’s Daily Online, 2002).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culture: People’s values, norms, beliefs, social activities, and material life.

Social Interaction: Communication between individuals, which is the foundation of society.

WeChat: A ‘micro message’ which offers multiple communication services, such as voice chatting, messages, photos, writing, and video.

Social Networking: A social support system which provides information or services to people and groups with shared common interests.

Social Change: The transformation of people’s behavior, attitudes, and thoughts over time in a society.

Community: People who live as a group in a local area with a sense of belonging to their residential place.

Social Impacts: The social effects of human activities that result in changes of the structures within different societal institutions. The social effects can also influence the well-being of the people and their families.

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