China's Growing Love Affair with the Net

The Internet has revolutionized the way that millions in China communicate with the outside world. But for some Chinese teenagers the thrill of using the Internet came with a high price: addiction.


The Internet has revolutionized the way that millions in China communicate with the outside world. But for some Chinese teenagers the thrill of using the Internet came with a high price: addiction. Just an Ordinary Teen Luo Junwen seems like many other 16-year olds. He's into psychology, sports, and the Internet. But unlike most teenagers, going online wasn't just for fun. It became an addiction. "I'm crazy for the internet. I go to sleep at 5 or 6 a.m. and wake up at 1 or 2 p.m. to get online. After I shower and get food, I go online." Luo said. This worldwide addiction affects about six to ten percent of Internet users in the U.S. and more than 17 percent of China's teenagers. American Internet addicts have varying interests, including Internet porn, gambling, and gaming. Some are children and teenagers, whereas others are adults. By contrast the majority of China's Internet addicts are teenagers who tend to be addicted to computer games. Many of the young people who were interviewed by CBN News told stories of friends who would spend twenty hours a day online. Despite this growing social problem, only a small number have been able to get help. Two thousand young people come to the Beijing Internet Addiction Treatment Center each year, which is one of several similar centers across the country. According to its director, Dr. Tao Ran, about 70 percent of youths seeking treatment can be cured. "What we do is set them free from the Internet addiction, but not from the Internet," Tao stated. "If they can exercise self-control, and if their personal relationships are not affected, they are basically cured." The treatment includes military training, medical, and psychological treatments. Doctors say the addicts may lack discipline and structure at home. "Most teenagers are very lazy and do not abide by any rules. We want to use good behavior to replace their rebellion." Tao said. "Habits decide one's fate. A bad habit will lead to a bad fate, so we need to change that." Tao and his team of psychologists emphasize setting goals so the patients have something to live for, other than computer games. One addict was particularly damaged by his father's workaholic tendencies, and was afraid that if he was a successful businessman, he would be just like his father. After three months of treatment, he said, "I'm ready to leave. I've already made a plan. I want to do more housework to make my family more like a family. I want to go to school to learn cooking." Luo Junwen also experienced a new outlook on life. "Before it was easy to give up" he said, "but now I will hang in there." While this addiction only impacts a small population it's a problem that's getting attention. Casual Surfing The vast majority of China's 162 million Internet users have a more casual relationship with the web. They'll go online to check email, play games, read the news or share their views on personal blogs. University student Zhang Pengpeng says that "almost everybody goes on the Internet." According to Jasmine, a Chinese employee of a New York-based company,"Every day in the morning, first thing I do is check my e-mails." She also expressed concern that her son who was playing computer games at home, might be spending too much time online. Jiang Ya, a university student at a military school wasn't able to spend much time online, but planned to after graduation. "There's so much rich information on the Internet," she said. "Some blogs present different ideas. I think reading others' ideas is a way to edify myself, which is helpful." More than 30 million Chinese are bloggers. Millions more read blogs from their friends or favorite celebrities. Every day, Tang Jiangyen blogs about her routine and ideas. Yan Shengxi, a university student doesn't blog himself, but reads the blogs of his friends. Beyond detailing their daily lives, China's bloggers also impact society. Min Dahong, a leading Internet expert, believes blogs allow ordinary citizens to create policy changes and social action online. "These comments or views may cause the relations of different countries to change. They may even be used to disclose corrupt officials inside China. They may be about environmental protection or citizens' rights. Sometimes they can cause people to act," Min explained. But these critical comments can backfire. Cartoon cops Jingjng and Chacha - China's virtual police - are a constant reminder that China's 30,000 internet monitors are watching. They periodically pop up on computer screens nationwide. Huang Chengqing, Secretary-General Senior Engineer of the Internet Society of China says that his country is continuing to develop its system of Internet governance alongside the United Nations. He says that certain regulations, particularly those against spam, hacking, and pornography, are necessary for Internet development. "The Internet enhances China's democracy and freedom. It's necessary to establish laws and regulations to restrict the internet's development. Freedom means responsibility," said Huang. Min Dahong says Internet development will take time. "When we look at China's Internet regulations and china's news freedom, usually we don't say it's freedom or no freedom. There's a way to go between those two conditions," he said. "It should be a very long process for China to get democracy and news freedom." Over the past year, China has reduced spam, computer hacking, and malicious emails but critics say these regulations are primarily to discourage political action against the government. James Mann, author of The China Fantasy, and author-in-residence at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins explains, "The Internet is being used by China's security apparatus very effectively to keep an eye on political activity and dissent." Ninety Percent of China's Citizen's Never go Online Despite the Internet's tremendous impact in China, further development is not without challenges, especially in the Western part of China. Wang Enhai, Director of Information Service Department at the China Internet Network Information Center, conducts a thorough survey of China's Internet usage each year, "In rural areas, many people don't know anything about internet. They don't even have a computer." In fact, nearly ninety percent of China's citizens have never gone online. Much of that is due to poor conditions. But Wang believes that will change, "In the future, traditional services will be used online, so the people's living standards will improve. Internet usage will be everywhere. People will be able to log online any time anywhere." Some of the new technological trends that will improve the usage of the Internet include using cell phones to go online, and further development of broadband and high speed services like WiMax and 3G. The stark gap between China's Internet addicts and those who have never even heard of a computer will remain a difficult hurdle for China in the next several years. Developing a good system of internet laws won't be any easier. Despite these challenges, China has already made a distinctive mark on the worldwide web.


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