Internet cafes suffer as Beijing cuts connection

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 July, 2009, 12:00am

Computer screens at hundreds of internet cafes around Urumqi flickered with life but the seats in front of them were empty. With the city's connection cut in the wake of the riots, business at some establishments is down as much as 90 per cent.

Zhang Jun, who owns an internet bar on Zhongshan Road in central Urumqi, says he has been hit hard. 'Although the incident may have had an adverse impact on tourism and ... restaurants, cinemas and shopping malls, my industry felt the heat immediately. We've done almost no business since the connections were cut off.'

Mr Zhang said his cafe used to be open around the clock, earning a profit of about 50,000 yuan (HK$56,800) a month. He estimates he will suffer nearly 20,000 yuan monthly losses.

'Only about a 10th of the 160 computers are occupied,' Mr Zhang said, pointing at the parlour. 'This is 5pm on Saturday. I daresay that you would never have found a single vacant seat before.

'The revenue on Friday, the first day business resumed since closure [on July 5], was something more than 300 yuan - roughly 10 per cent of [the amount] before the clashes.'

Chen Yun, the boss of another internet cafe, said he had never witnessed such bad times.

'You know why I insist on keeping my shop open when it is losing money?' he said. 'I simply want to keep my intangible assets - regular customers - instead of giving rise to any speculation that my shop has been shut down.'

Mr Chen said his 210-seat cafe was usually full but now saw fewer than 100 patrons a day. He said he was losing about 300 yuan a day.

'What the customers are doing now is playing games offline or watching movies. Of course they would all rather be online, chatting, searching for information or doing whatever they are interested in.

'As many as 30 customers have called to ask me when the line will be reconnected.'

Mr Zhang has been asking the same question of his service provider. 'Not surprisingly, the official said they were waiting for instructions from higher-level authorities.'

He was worried about a loss of trust between Han Chinese and Uygurs. About 30 per cent his customers were Uygurs, but he expected that to go down.

Mr Zhang is also concerned about his customer demographic, as most parents will probably want their children to come home before dark.

'Optimistically speaking, I think my business will be back to the level before the riot in two or three months,' he said. 'But I'm afraid the recovery will last much longer if any more ethnic violence erupts.'