Up to 24 million Chinese youths are addicted to the internet – and half of those are “obsessed” by online games. Treatment centres have popped up around the country, aiming to ‘cure’ these young people from their terrible affliction.
An official at these camps has gone on record to explain what goes on:
“We have to use military-style methods such as total immersion and physical training on these young people. We need to teach them some discipline and help them to establish a regular lifestyle.”
This includes providing a camouflage, army-style uniform, disciplined bedtimes (lights out at 9:30pm sharp, out of bed by 5am), and two hours of physical training, plus some psychological training, traditional Chinese philosophy and calligraphy classes.
Understandably, it’s not what you’d call fun – and last week, a group of inmates at the Huai’an Internet Addiction Treatment Centre decided they’d had enough of the “monotonous work and intensive training”. Working together, they tied their duty supervisor to his bed and made a run for it.
The 14 patients, aged from 15 to 22, hailed a taxi to take them to a nearby town in east China’s Jiangsu province – but were uncovered when the driver took them to the police station instead, suspicious of the identically-dressed young men who were unable to pay the fare.
Thirteen of the boys were taken straight back to the Treatment Centre, with one mother in tears at the police station as she explained her son had once spent 28 hours straight playing videogames. Another mother, whose son was the alleged leader of the escape, defended her choice of treatment for her wayward child – six months at the Centre for a cost of 18,000 yuan (US$2,635).
“I don’t think there is any problem with the training methods at the centre. They are for my child’s own good.”
The Chinese government supports these centres, releasing a white paper on the topic, which details their commitment to the “online safety” of minors, and promising to take measures to prevent young people “overindulging in the internet” – but it’s not an opinion shared by everyone. Treatment centres came under scrutiny last year, after a 15 year old boy was admitted to a training camp and was beaten to death mere hours later. Boot camp instructors involved in that incident have now been sentenced to up to 10 years jail, but it is not known if anything else has really changed to prevent it from happening again.