China’s young escape into the web
Beijing Military Hospital has a 6am wake-up call; Qing is the first to respond. He was brought to the hospital by his parents after he tried to stab one of his classmates. The 17-year-old has been diagnosed as suffering from a new disease emerging in a time of China’s prosperity.
Like the other young men being treated there, Qing is an addict. Most are addicted to internet games, and some to online chat rooms. Their preoccupation has cost them their studies, their health and their sanity. A third of those in Qing’s ward became violent, caught up as they were in their virtual worlds.
‘I had no way to solve my problems, and no place to release myself, so I went on-line. I often quarrelled with my parents and sometimes we hit each other,’ said Qing, who has been playing games online for four years.
The clinic claims to cure 80 per cent of its patients. But one day’s treatment here costs a quarter of the average Beijing monthly salary. This is treatment for the privileged.
Tao Ran is the clinic’s mastermind: ‘Internet addiction is a serious disease. Addicts play four to five hours a day. They often get angry, they become cold to emotions, only having feelings for their online friends. They have no mood to do anything.’
Addiction can be fatal, says Tao Ran. ‘A 13-year-old child jumped off a building and killed himself. From reading his diary, we can see that his mind merged between the real world and the online world. He thought that people can live and die and live again, as in a game.’
One of the main factors behind internet addiction is the pressure that Chinese parents put on their children. One such was Dai Ou. She used to obsess about her son’s grades. If he wasn’t first in class, it wasn’t good enough.
But when her son dropped out of school for a life online, she realised she had pushed him too far:
‘Parents want their child to be the best. We want them to go to university, do a master’s, a doctorate and get a brilliant job. Parents design a life for their child before the child is even born. The competition now is much more serious than when we were young. Economic development eliminates people and only a minority can live really well.’
But in bedrooms across China, more and more young people are letting their web identities dominate their lives, seeking escape from the pressures the economic boom has brought. The problem is mostly hidden, but at 1am in a Beijing internet café there is not an empty seat, as in most of the other 100,000 internet cafés in China.
Communities are formed online. Recently, an online funeral was organised for a girl who died after spending consecutive days playing a Black Dragon Prince game. A few months ago, a man was sentenced to life for stabbing a 23-year-old gamer to death in a dispute over a cyber sword in the same game. A leading Beijing judge, Shan Xiuyun, declared that 90 per cent of juvenile crime in the city was internet-related.
The problem is deep-rooted and Qing doubts 15 days in hospital will help him. ‘The internet is just a tool, not a cause of the problem. Change needs to happen across society. The pressures from school and from home are just too much.’
Dai Ou acknowledges some responsibility: ‘Parents cannot bear their children to stray from the path they have mapped out.
‘Children can only realise their potential if they know in their hearts that their parents really think that they are the best. But partly because of our tradition, parents incessantly nag their children to be better.
‘Competition is fierce. Some get eliminated. We don’t want our children to be the ones who don’t survive. These kids online are in a lot of pain.’ Autor: Poppy Sebag-Montefiore