News / Health

'Electronic Heroin' Spawns Chinese Internet Addiction Camps

A Chinese teen receives treatment at an Internet addiction camp in a still from the new documentary "Web Junkie."
A Chinese teen receives treatment at an Internet addiction camp in a still from the new documentary "Web Junkie."
Sarah Williams

They call it “electronic heroin,” and China feels it’s the biggest threat to its teenagers.

In 2008, China, which has over 20 million Internet addicts, became one of the first countries to declare the affliction a clinical disorder. Internet addiction has spawned the creation of over 250 camps within China designed to treat addicted youth.

The addiction problem, and China's attempts to treat it, has attracted the attention of Israeli filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia, who released the documentary Web Junkie earlier this month.

According to the 2008 report that defined the disorder, people who spend more than six hours online doing something other than work or study, and who feel bad when unable to access a computer, have what they call Internet Addiction Disorder.

Gaming appears to be the most addictive Internet behavior, with some gamers donning diapers so as to avoid bathroom breaks.

The trend has Chinese parents worried.

“I think China and especially Chinese parents take education very seriously,” said Eric Harwit, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii.  “They saw a lot of teenagers, especially young male students, start to lose interest in school and devote much of their time to Internet gaming.”

Harwit said the parents of Internet-addicted youth are desperate to cure their offspring. Some even resort to drugging their kids to take them to the camps.

“They look to [the camps] as a kind of last resort for reforming their children, especially if it’s one child, the only child that they have, and giving them a chance to break their addiction to Internet games and hopefully then return to school and become more academically capable,” he said.

The military-style camps are situated throughout China, and are designed to force the country’s youth away from obsessive Internet surfing and video gaming. Typically, kids can spend three to four months at a camp receiving treatment.

Filmmakers Shlam and Hilla Medalia were granted access to the Daxing Boot Camp in Beijing, the first Internet addiction camp, which opened in 2005.

“Most of the kids were forced to come there, they didn’t know where they were going,” said Hilla Medalia, co-director of Web Junkie. “Some of them were drugged, one of our kids thought he was going skiing and found himself behind bars at the center.”

Once there, the patients are required to participate in rigorous exercises, medication and therapy. Sometimes patients are also placed in isolation for as long as 10 days. The living conditions are Spartan, according to Medalia.

“There are no showers, and they wake up very early in the morning, it’s like a boot camp in many ways and they’re doing military training,” she said. “In the winter it’s extremely cold in Beijing, and in the summer it’s extremely hot.”

But Medalia said camp officials believe the harsh conditions provide a discipline that the patients need. The center encourages parents to stay at the camps, and families often participate in consultations with authorities there. The Daxing treatment center claimed 70 percent success in helping patients overcome Internet addiction. It has since closed, but relocated to another facility not connected to the military.

But some of the disciplinary measures at the camps have become overly harsh, and deaths have been reported. According to a 2012 Xinhua story, “instructors who resort to violence while treating addicts at Internet addiction rehabilitation centers will be disqualified from continuing their job.”

That same report said that in 2010 two camp instructors beat a 15-year-old to death. The two received “up to” 10 years in prison, according to the report.

And the deaths continue.

In June, a 19-year-old girl died after being repeatedly dropped on the ground by instructors at a camp in Henan province. Another girl apparently died after being forced to do extreme exercises on a cold floor for two hours.

The true test of the camps’ success comes when the participants leave the camps and return to their homes or schools where the Internet is always waiting.

“Once they return to society, they’re not supposed to then play games, but they still have to use the Internet,” said Harwit, noting that much academic research is now done online. “How do you say this part of the Internet is good, but this part you should avoid?”

China is not the only country grappling with Internet addiction.

The New York Times reported that “up to 30 percent of South Koreans under 18, or about 2.4 million people, are at risk of Internet addiction.” South Korea also has opened well over 100 rehabilitation centers for those suffering from addiction.

Here's a peak inside a Chinese Internet addiction camp:

Here's the trailer for the movie:

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs