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Telecommunications Services

In 1987 the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications administered China's telecommunications systems and related research and production facilities. Besides postal services, some of which were handled by electronic means, the ministry was involved in a wide spectrum of telephone, wire, telegraph, and international communications (see Postal Services , this ch.). The Ministry of Radio and Television was established as a separate entity in 1982 to administer and upgrade the status of television and radio broadcasting. Subordinate to this ministry were the Central People's Broadcasting Station, Radio Beijing, and China Central Television. Additionally, the various broadcasting training, talent-search, research, publishing, and manufacturing organizations were brought under the control of the Ministry of Radio and Television. In 1986 responsibility for the movie industry was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the new Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television (see Contemporary Performing Arts , ch. 4). The Chinese Communist Party's Propaganda Department coordinates the work of both telecommunications-related ministries.

As of 1987 the quality of telecommunications services in China had improved markedly over earlier years. A considerable influx of foreign technology and increased domestic production capabilities had a major impact in the post-Mao period.

The primary form of telecommunications in the 1980s was local and long-distance telephone service administered by six regional bureaus: Beijing (north region), Shanghai (east region), Xi'an (northwest region), Chengdu (southwest region), Wuhan (centralsouth region), and Shenyang (northeast region). These regional headquarters served as switching centers for provincial-level subsystems. By 1986 China had nearly 3 million telephone exchange lines, including 34,000 long-distance exchange lines with direct, automatic service to 24 cities. By late 1986 fiber optic communications technology was being employed to relieve the strain on existing telephone circuits. International service was routed through overseas exchanges located in Beijing and Shanghai. Guangdong Province had coaxial cable and microwave lines linking it to Hong Kong and Macao.

The large, continuously upgraded satellite ground stations, originally installed in 1972 to provide live coverage of the visits to China by U.S. president Richard M. Nixon and Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, still served as the base for China's international satellite communications network in the mid-1980s. By 1977 China had joined Intelsat and, using ground stations in Beijing and Shanghai, had linked up with satellites over the Indian and Pacific oceans.

In April 1984 China launched an experimental communications satellite for trial transmission of broadcasts, telegrams, telephone calls, and facsimile, probably to remote areas of the country. In February 1986 China launched its first fully operational telecommunications and broadcast satellite. The quality and communications capacity of the second satellite reportedly was much greater than the first. In mid-1987 both satellites were still functioning. With these satellites in place China's domestic satellite communication network went into operation, facilitating television and radio transmissions and providing direct-dial longdistance telephone, telegraph, and facsimile service. The network had ground stations in Beijing, Urumqi, Hohhot, Lhasa, and Guangzhou, which also were linked to an Intelsat satellite over the Indian Ocean.

Telegraph development received lower priority than the telephone network largely because of the difficulties involved in transmitting the written Chinese language. Computer technology gradually alleviated these problems and facilitated further growth in this area. By 1983 China had nearly 10,000 telegraph cables and telex lines transmitting over 170 million messages annually. Most telegrams were transmitted by cables or by shortwave radio. Cutmicrowave transmission also was used. Teletype transmission was used for messages at the international level, but some 40 percent of county and municipal telegrams still were transmitted by Morse code.

Apart from traditional telegraph and telephone services, China also had facsimile, low-speed data-transmission, and computercontrolled telecommunications services. These included on-line information retrieval terminals in Beijing, Changsha, and Baotou that enabled international telecommunications networks to retrieve news and scientific, technical, economic, and cultural information from international sources.

High-speed newspaper-page-facsimile equipment and Chinesecharacter - code translation equipment were used on a large scale. Sixty-four-channel program-controlled automatic message retransmission equipment and low- or medium-speed data transmission and exchange equipment also received extensive use. International telex service was available in coastal cities and special economic zones.

The Central People's Broadcasting Station controlled China's national radio network. Programming was administered by the provincial-level units. The station produced general news and cultural and educational programs. It also provided programs for minority groups in the Korean, Manchurian, Zang (Tibetan), Uygur, and Kazak languages, as well as programs directed toward Taiwan and overseas Chinese (see Glossary) listeners. Radio Beijing broadcast to the world in thirty-eight foreign languages, putonghua (see Glossary), and various dialects, including Amoy, Cantonese, and Hakka. It also provided English-language news programs aimed at foreign residents in Beijing. Medium-wave, shortwave, and FM stations reached 80 percent of the country--over 160 radio stations and 500 relay and transmission stations--with some 240 radio programs.

The nationwide network of wire lines and loudspeakers transmitted radio programs into virtually all rural communities and many urban areas. By 1984 there were over 2,600 wired broadcasting stations, extending radio transmissions to rural areas outside the range of regular broadcasting stations.

In 1987 China Central Television (CCTV), the state network, managed China's television programs. In 1985 consumers purchased 15 million new sets, including approximately 4 million color sets. Production fell far short of demand. Because Chinese viewers often gathered in large groups to watch publicly owned sets, authorities estimated that two-thirds of the nation had access to television. In 1987 there were about 70 million television sets, an average of 29 sets per 100 families. CCTV had four channels that supplied programs to the over ninety television stations throughout the country. Construction began on a major new CCTV studio in Beijing in 1985. CCTV produced its own programs, a large portion of which were educational, and the Television University in Beijing produced three educational programs weekly. The English-language lesson was the most popular program and had an estimated 5 to 6 million viewers. Other programs included daily news, entertainment, teleplays, and special programs. Foreign programs included films and cartoons. Chinese viewers were particularly interested in watching international news, sports, and drama (see Contemporary Performing Arts , ch. 4; The Media , ch. 10).

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Descriptions of the evolving domestic and foreign trade systems are found in a variety of periodicals, including China Daily, Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, China Trade Report, China Business Review, and Beijing Review. Jean C. Oi's "Peasant Grain Marketing and State Procurement: China's Grain Contracting System" provides a good description of grain procurement and marketing. Useful articles on foreign trade are "China's International Trade: Policy and Organizational Change and Their Place in the `Economic Readjustment'" by Y.Y. Kueh and Christopher Howe and "Understanding Chinese Trade" by John Frankenstein. Valuable analyses of China's economic reforms and their impact on domestic and foreign trade appear in both volumes of the 1986 United States Congress Joint Economic Committee's China's Economy Looks Toward the Year 2000 and in China's Economy and Foreign Trade, 1981-85 by Nai-Ruenn Chen and Jeffrey Lee. Transportation and telecommunications developments are described in the periodicals China Transport and China Business Review. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of July 1987

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