China in the Information Age: Telecommunications and the Dilemmas of Reform

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China in the Information Age: Telecommunications and the Dilemmas of Reform

By Milton Mueller and Siziang Tan
Praeger, 1997
165 pp. $49.95
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This is a detailed, informative account of the rapid modernization of China's telecommunications industry by two communications specialists. Unfortunately, and not unexpectedly, its political judgments are crude. China has installed more than 73 million phone lines in the last 5 years. This is more than the rest of the developing world combined. More than 84 percent of China's long distance networks are digitalized. Some 19 of China's provinces are now linked by 4,000 digital satellite communications circuits. And although 75 percent of China's rural villages still had no phone service in 1995, 500,000 villages are scheduled to be served by low-cost satellite communications networks soon. Although cellular phone service is still in its infancy in China, by the spring of 1996, it was already among the five largest markets in the world, with 4.7 million subscribers. There will be 18 million subscribers by the end of the century. To conclude, as the authors do, that these developments will not undermine China's political system and that China will remain a "communist" dictatorship, is probably true but beside the point. The real question is how the information revolution will influence Chinese society and politics when the regime can no longer monopolize sources of information.