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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 March, 2004, 09:53 GMT
Riding China's broadband wave
Dangdang are riding China's dotcom wave
China is the world's fastest-growing internet market, with 80 million online, more than the number of members of the country's ruling Communist Party.

Riding the boom is dangdang.com, the company hoping to become China's version of the hugely popular amazon.com website in the West.

Dangdang's founder Peggy Yu argues that broadband internet in particular has had an explosive impact on the country, and many places with only intermittent access to needs such as heating and water were able to get online.

"People log onto the internet to stay connected with friends, people read news on the internet, and people use the internet to shop," she told BBC World Service's The Interview programme.

"Everywhere we go there are good internet connections."

No vested interests

Broadband has even become widespread in China's remote northwest, such as Xinjiang province.

People in a Chinese internet cafe
We were starting from scratch, so we have the opportunity to use the most up-to-the-minute technology
Peggy Yu
Ms Yu said that recently she had visited her 88-year-old grandmother in the south of China. She had no heating and her house was freezing cold, but she had internet access.

"That's the kind of interesting picture here," she said.

"On the one hand, a lot of things lag behind what they are like in Western countries. On the other, internet connection and internet usage is very prevalent."

She added that people in China were able to simply able to log on at a telephone, type in any ISP number, and get online.

Ms Yu said a lack of vested interests, such as cable and telephone companies, had allowed China's rapid expansion in information technology.

"We were starting from scratch, so we have the opportunity to use the most up-to-the-minute technology," she said.

People in China "crave" information, which has also fired the internet boom.

"When I came back to China, going through bookstores and trying to find what I wanted was such a headache," she said.

"I just feel there has to be a place in the market. If I create convenience for the consumers, they will want it."


Interestingly, the majority of the site's Top 10 bestsellers are American self-help books, with titles like You Have No Excuse and Seven Habits Of Highly-Effective People. The front page currently promotes DVDs of 24 and Finding Nemo.

In all, more than half of the books the site are translated titles from US. Dangdang is even allowed to sell George Orwell's allegory of Communism, Animal Farm.

Chinese dotcom advert
China's dotcom boom has spread out of the cities
However, many are still vetted - Hilary Clinton's recent autobiography had chapters removed by the authorities, for example.

And the authorities do maintain a strict watch on what people are able to download. The Chinese government has some of the most sophisticated blocking software in the world.

Among the sites that have their content blocked is the BBC's Chinese website.

Ms Yu said that in her case, the authorities were more likely to hold the book publishers to account, rather than her site, over controversial content, such as references to Tibet or Taiwan.

She added that her way of dealing with bureaucracy and censorship in China's constantly changing regulatory environment was to "never ask for permission, only for forgiveness afterwards."

"We do whatever customers need, and what is right for the business.

"If that conflicts with certain regulations, we communicate with certain regulators, we come up with ways of complying with them after the event."

She admitted she had been asked for bribes before, but had never given them.

Some people wanted to see their product promoted on the site's front page but she said that she had never received anything more extravagant than mooncakes.

She added that she thought of herself as an "amateur entrepreneur, making mistakes and still making progress."

"The internet population is growing very fast, but to build dangdang from what it is today to the kind of company that has the kind of influence like Amazon I think we still have a long way to go," she conceded.

"There's going to be a lot of tests ahead of us."

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