Even though it was only a week before the Spring Festival — the most important family holiday on the Chinese calendar — Wang Hongxia was forcing her son out of the house. She took her 12-year-old from their home in northwestern city of Xian to a secluded Beijing military compound over 700 miles away. Like many other parents across China today, Wang felt like she had no choice. “Things have absolutely gone out of control,” said Wang, 45, almost in tears. “My son just beat and bit me again this morning after I wouldn’t let him touch the computer.”
By Jessie Jiang
With the world’s largest netizen population of 300 million, China is struggling with a new plight: Internet obsession among its youth. Since the 2004 establishment of the country’s first Internet Addiction Center, the military-run boot camp in Beijing where Wang took her son, over 3,000 adolescent and young adult patients have been treated for Internet addiction. Hundreds of similar treatment centers have mushroomed in recent years in China, joining other centers operating elsewhere in Asia and the United States. The U.S.-based Center for Internet Addiction Recovery classifies the disorder as compulsive behavior in which “the Internet becomes the organizing principle of addicts’ lives.” (See photos of the Chinese village that processes the world’s electronic waste.)
Though the fledgling disorder has been widely identified, defining it in China has not been easy. Tao Ran, director of the Beijing treatment center and a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, helped come up with a strict definition for Internet addiction last fall: consecutive useage of the web for six hours a day for three straight months is addiction. The new standard, which is still pending official endorsement by the Ministry of Health, has aroused widespread skepticism in Chinese cyberspace, with many arguing that too many people could be wrongly categorized as Internet addicts under this definition.
The murky guidelines have not stopped anxious parents like Wang from dragging their children to Tao’s camp, a grim, four-story building in Beijing’s major military compound. Once checked in, most patients are required to stay for three months, without access to the outside world, cell phones, or, of course, computers. But unlike in other similar camps, parents of patients at the Internet Addiction Center have to stay at the camp to receive “treatment,” too — because, according to Tao, Internet addiction is often a result of parenting mistakes. For most families, providing a child this treatment is already a sacrifice. The total cost for a family usually amounts to over nearly $3000 — almost as much as an average Chinese couple earns in three months.
Life in the treatment camp, not surprisingly, is defined by strict, semi-military disciplines. …