By David Bandurski — South Korea may have spearheaded the use of grueling boot camps to tackle the problem of so-called “Internet addiction,” but China is apparently leading the way in experimental treatments for this still very controversial condition. And Internet addiction and its determined enemies have brought a mini-storm of coverage and commentary in China’s media this month.
The latest controversy about “Internet addiction,” which has been hotly debated among Chinese experts in recent years, is swirling around Zhejiang doctor Yang Yongxin (杨永信), a widely known expert on Internet addiction and a fierce critic of online games, particularly World of Warcraft.
[ABOVE: World of Warcraft, destructor of Chinese youth?]
On May 7, China Youth Daily ran three reports about the use of electric shock therapy on children admitted to Yang Yongxin’s clinic in Zhejiang.
Other newspapers followed up on the story, with Guangzhou Daily asking suggestively in a headline over the weekend: “What is more frightening than Internet addiction?“
China’s chatrooms were hot on the heels of this issue late last year after a Web user identifying herself as Wu Xuying (武旭影) posted an account of her own experiences in Dr. Yang’s program. The post was called, “My Story, and a Diary of My State of Mind in the ‘Yang Yongxin Web Addiction Treatment Center’” (我的小故事及在“杨永信网戒中心”的心理日记), and it made the rounds on sites like Tianya and MOP.
The writer concluded with a list of what she saw as the problems with Yang Yongxin’s treatment methods. Here was the fourth:
4. Violation of human rights and of the right to privacy.
Yang Yongxin says himself in his classes: “Privacy does not exist for anyone here.” The so-called comment sessions are all about forcibly “airing out” your private business before the world. And the sessions are also filmed . . . If what he pushes is judging the standards of others, and if what he himself promotes is extreme or wrong, then those who are branded as wrong by him [in these comment sessions] (even under-aged children), are they not suffering a kind of spiritual brainwashing, being malevolently misguided, or even suffering personal attack?
Responding to the recent uptick in coverage of this issue, QQ.com has set up a special features page in their Views section, aggregating bunches of content about Yang Yongxin and Internet addiction. The editor’s note begins:
Recent news reports have brought the Internet addiction treatment methods of “national web addiction expert” Yang Yongxin (杨永信) into the spotlight. His curing methods, which involve attaching electrodes to childrens’ temples or fingers and stimulating the brain with electric current, have been fiercely controversial. There are presently more than 100 children receiving this form of treatment at the Fourth People’s Hospital in Linyi City, Shandong Province, and they are not permitted to leave. According to Yang Yongxin’s own figures, close to 3,000 “children with Internet addictions” (网瘾孩子) have received this sort of “treatment” at the facility.
Experts have debated whether Internet addiction can actually be classed as a mental disorder, and discussion has been renewed recently. Now it has become evident that electroshock therapy is also being used to treat Internet addiction. And what is more frightening is that the parents of these children have expressed their support. When a debate among experts is up against market demand, what should be done? . . .
[ABOVE: QQ.com’s feature page on Internet addiction and the controversy over Yang Yongxin’s treatment methods.]
One of the commentaries promoted on QQ’s feature page is written by journalist, media scholar and former CMP fellow Hu Yong (胡泳), who is also author of the recent Chinese book The Rising Cacophony.
A few portions of Hu Yong’s commentary follow:
“Breathing is Also an Addiction“
By Hu Yong
May 13, 2009
. . . So-called Internet addition refers to the repeated and excessive use of the Internet to the point that is becomes a kind of mental disorder. It can manifest itself as the intense desire to use the Internet repeatedly, and withdrawal symptoms are often observed when Internet use is decreased. At the same time, the disorder can result in somatic symptoms. Some experts have given us chilling numbers, saying that approximately 20 million people in China have Internet addiction or are predisposed. This shocking number prompted Yang Yongxin to write on his blog that if we cannot effectively control the spread of Internet addiction, it would mean the “death of the party and the nation” (亡党亡国) and would mean entire Chinese people “would be without children and grandchildren,” that it would make America’s 1970s policy of “victory without war” become a reality, allowing Chinese culture to perish under the onslaught of online imperialism!
Well, with things coming to such a point as that, how can our party and nation afford not to give this top priority? What is regrettable, though, is that these experts [like Yang Yongxin] have not to this day been able to define clearly what Internet addiction is . . .
But I don’t know whether our society has thought about this question: as the diagnosis and treatment of Internet addiction lacks clear standards, there are certain treatment methods that might, even while they deal with Internet addiction, subject children to even more frightful demons. Used on our so-called “Web addicted youth,” certain methods of dealing with psychological disorders might do physical and mental harm to our children. Moreover, we must ask who it is that gave some of these adults the power to limit the personal freedoms of their children?
* “Yang Yongxin, saving youngsters from Internet addiction,” CRIEnglish.com, October 22, 2008
* Lixuan Zhang, Clinton Amos and William C. McDowell. “Rapid Communication: A Comparative Study of Internet Addiction between the United States and China,” Cyberpsychology & Behavior, Volume 11, Number 6, 2008
* “In Korea, a Boot Camp Cure for Web Addiction,” The New York Times, November 18, 2007
* “Inside China’s Fight Against Internet Addiction,” Time, January 28, 2009
* “US Shows Signs of Net Addiction,” BBC News, October 18, 2006
* “Internet Addiction May Affect One In Eight In USA,” October 18, 2006 [Medical study abstract here]
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 14, 2009, 3:15pm HK]