China had 210 million Internet users at the end of 2007 and its online population is on course to become the world's largest at the beginning of this year.
There was only a gap of 5 million between the Chinese and U.S. internet populations, according to a survey released on Thursday on the web site of the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC).
China's internet penetration ratio has risen to 16 percent, although it is still below the world average of 19.1 percent.
Last year, 73 million people were added to the nation's total netizen population. Of the increment, 29.17 million, or 40 percent, lived in rural areas. This brought the number of rural Internet users to 52.62 million at the end of 2007, up 127.7 percent year-on-year.
The impressive growth was due largely to government efforts to extend telephone links to villages and Internet services to townships.
According to the CINIC survey, 181 million netizens, or 86.6 percent of the total, used the Internet for musical entertainment, while nearly 170 million, or 81.4 percent, used it for real-time telecommunications.
Among other major uses: 73.6 percent browsed for news, 72.4 percent used search engines, and 59.3 percent played games. E-mail services were utilized by 56.5 percent of the Internet users.
The CINIC web site said that last year, the number of users under age 18 and above 30 increased rapidly, but it did not give any details. At the end of 2007, users aged 18-24 accounted for 31.8 percent of the total and those aged 25-30 made up 18.1 percent. The proportion of netizens aged 31-35 was 12 percent.
Of the total, 57.2 percent were male and 42.8 percent were female.
Approximately one-third of the total surfed the Internet at net cafes.