Things everyone in China knows, but...

... that few people outside have really taken in. Here I'm talking strictly about the communications-and-internet front. They were neatly summarized by Andrew Lih, in a recent SXSW panel that was in turn reported on His principles, with my marginalia [in brackets like this] below:

  •  No one uses voicemail. When some one calls you on your mobile phone, you generally pick it up. Mobile calls take precedence over face-to-face conversation, which is generally interrupted by a call. [Too many times to count, I have seen people take mobile-phone calls while giving a speech or presiding at a meeting. It's the norm, not something rude.]

  • China uses SMS more intensively. SMS may have become entrenched because of the low cost of sending text messages. The first thing Chinese do in the morning is check their IM first, not their email. [Though, this assumes they turned off the phone at night!]

  • Instant messaging, combined with SMS, is a hugely popular means of communication. China's leading IM platform, QQ (Company: Tencent (HK:0700)), has 350 mm users-over 50 times the audience of Twitter! [Two days ago on the Beijing subway, I counted 25 people in the same car as me all typing out or reading text messages and only two actually talking on the phone. Also, you're never out of mobile-phone coverage in China -- on subways, in elevators, wherever. Discussion of reasons some other time.]

  • Only 56% of all Chinese internet users have email addresses. [If you want to reach a busy American, you send email to the Blackberry. That gets you nowhere here.]

  • Ownership of PCs is much lower, especially in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, where heavy PC usage is at Internet cafes.

  • Unlike the West, where e-commerce was Web 1.0 and social media is Web 2.0, China's internet usage started as a social phenomenon first and is just now moving to more utilitarian purposes.

Lih is a friend in Beijing; was a major guide/informant for the Atlantic piece I wrote about the Great Firewall; and is author of a much-anticipated book The Wikipedia Revolution, which I have ordered and look forward to reading.