I guess when I say 'travelling independently' I mean staying in the kinds of hostels that I would identify as a hostel - rather than just a well-priced/good value hotel. Accommodation can be very cheap in China - particularly if you bargain so it's possible to get good discounts at 4* and 5* places.
What's interesting is that Chinese travellers are now more attracted to staying in hostels that would have been designed and set up predominantly for the overseas travellers China gets. I haven't yet seen or heard of a place set up like a backpacker hostel (some sort of common area, a focus on being social, exchanging stories and experience) for Chinese guests - of course, they must exist, I just haven't come across them yet.
At our place, most Chinese guests book private rooms (and most of the Chinese guests who stay with us are not backpacker-types - we take a lot of business travellers as our rooms are very hotel-like). In other hostels, I have met Chinese travellers staying in dorms - interesting as the prices in hostels aimed at foreigners can be higher than a local Chinese hotel as we have to cover costs of English speaking staff and often providing food and drink for 'Western' tastes (as an aside, coffee is expensive here!). I assume that Chinese travellers staying in hostels are attracted by the atmosphere - perhaps the social elements of hostel life. Most of them are travelling alone. I'll ask some Chinese peers and report back - these are all observations from a 'foreign' perspective.
There are now Chinese language web booking engines - similar to Hostelworld (which I know has a Chinese language version, but I would dare to suggest that HW marketing has not focused so much on the Chinese market yet), which suggests an increase in backpacker traffic from China.
In terms of a "huge wave of Chinese backpackers" - The huge population means that even a small increase in the awareness of backpacker life could result in a large number of travellers. It is much easier today than a few years ago for Chinese people to get a passport and travel overseas - though it is still prohibitively expensive for the majority of people. China produces a huge number of graduates and huge numbers of English speakers so it is plausible that backpacking could take off and hostels in other countries will be conducting most of their marketing and tailoring service needs to Chinese guests.
Many Chinese young people already travel abroad to study - in my view this would be the way to kick-start a backpacker revolution - they are already overseas and sometimes very unaware of the cheaper accommodation options available as they may perceive their host country as very expensive (often the case in the UK). The exchange rates are favourable to the Chinese Renminbi at the moment - so the time is right to get started....it's just where one would start!