China has the world’s largest number of Internet users. There are around 290 million and counting, with 70% of those under the age of 30. And a recent survey of Internet use by global market information found that the Chinese spend the highest proportion of their leisure time online, often more than 50%.
In Beijing, I managed to gain unlimited access to Dr. Tao Ran’s rehabilitation camp for Internet addicts. Nearly all the kids enrolled were forced to go there by their parents, and the camp was run with the disciplinary level of a military boot camp. Through early wake-up calls, grueling physical regimes and military exercises, his camp seeks to reintegrate kids back into reality. Dr. Ran described his patients as severely crippled by the antisocial tendencies of a virtual life online:
“All the children here have left school because they are playing games or in chat rooms everyday, they are suffering from depression, nervousness, fear and unwillingness to interact with others, panic and agitation. They also have sleep disorders, the shakes and numbness in their hands.”