Tag Archives: chinese websites

Fighting Web Addiction in China

It is Tuesday morning around 10 AM when I saunter into an Internet cafe on the third floor of a mostly empty shopping complex. As soon as the door closes behind me, I am greeted by a familiar heaviness in the air which can only be attributed to cigarette smoke and poor ventilation. It is also dark inside. All I can see are dozens of faces which glow eerily in the lights of their computer monitors. I inquire at the front desk about the price per hour; the lady barely looks up at me from the computer game that she is playing when she answers. I wince. The price is more expensive than what I had expected but I pay anyway. My computer is being repaired and I have some work that I must do.

As I walk past the desk in search of an empty terminal, I notice that no one looks up. Usually, when I walk into a public place in China, I suddenly feel as if I have grown a third nostril because of the many stares that I receive. Not here. Everyone seems to be very intent on whatever it is they are doing on the computer.

What are people doing on the computer? While I wait for my computer to log into Windows, I take a discreet look around me. Most of my fellow surfers are young men who are playing video games: NBA,War,Poker,etc. Close by however, a man seems to be enthralled by a low quality porn flick. He does not seem to care that anyone who walks by would immediately know what he was watching.

I put my eyes back on my own screen. After all, I have a lot of work to to. As I open up Internet Explorer, however, I cannot help feel sorry for many of the people around me. Although I rarely use an Internet cafe these days, I feel as if I have seen these men many times before. Many have been sitting in their seats long before I arrived and many will still be sitting there long after I have left, their expressionless faces peering into a colorful box that helps them to escape from reality for a little while. Hours later, when they hazily stagger out of the Internet bar, reality will be there to greet them and it will be back to their mediocre and tedious jobs.

“Internet addiction is one of the biggest social problems in China today,” a friend explained to me recently. That was not hard to believe. I remembered walking outside my apartment complex one morning to discover a large group of people and local authorities gathered outside an Internet cafe across the street. When I asked a bystander what had happened, he explained to me that a dead body had just been removed from the Internet cafe. Some poor guy had been playing computer games for 40 straight hours and had experienced a seizure and then ‘keeled’ over. The Internet cafe reopened a day later and was full of people as usual.

Months later, the problem of Internet addiction in China became a personal problem for me when my apartment was robbed. The police determined that the camera I lost (with 500 photos from a recent trip to Chengdu), as well as a computer and a Gerber knife had probably been pawned by local schoolboys to fund their Internet game addictions. Two weeks later, I caught two of them climbing over a wall and sneaking into my apartment building. I chased them halfway down the street in dress shoes before I finally gave up.

Sadly in China, Internet addiction is not a phenomenon that everyone just ’grows out of.’ In the past, I have taught English to post-graduate students and the most common hobby amongst them is immersing themselves in war and other role playing games on the Internet. While I am generally surrounded by young men at the Internet cafe, I am always surprised by the number of middle-aged men that I encounter. Many of the intense gaming sessions are accompanied by chain smoking which is why the air in many internet cafes in China is perpetually cloudy and dirty.

The Chinese government has recognized that there is a problem with Internet addiction and as usual, it has attempted to insert itself into the daily affairs of Chinese businesses by forcing a number of rules and regulations on Internet users. These regulations have included but are not limited to imposing time usage restrictions and requiring Internet cafes to scan in a copy of each user’s government issued ID before they are allowed to access the internet. However, as is the case with many other Chinese ‘laws’ these policies have been difficult to enforce. Many Internet cafes are tucked away out of sight from the street or located on the third or fourth floor of a non-descript building. Of course, there are plenty of Chinese people now who can afford to buy their own computer systems and play games at home whenever they wish.

In fact, this problem is not one that can be solved by direct government intervention. After all, there is an important reason why Internet addiction persists so strongly in China. For many in China, there is still simply too little to hope for. There is still too little to get excited about. People may have their dreams but to attain them is often still too difficult in this fast developing country.

While some people use the Internet to escape from the harsh reality that still is China, others simply have nothing better to do. Besides, for the cost of a movie ticket in China or an hour of badminton, a person can spend 6-10 hours playing games, watching movies, and chatting with friends at all hours of the day and night. It is no wonder that so many of my Chinese counterparts are blurry eyed and half asleep when I encounter them every morning.

It is important for ESL teachers in China to understand this widespread phenomenon of Internet addiction in China. Knowing about this issue has helped me to better understand why so many of my male students seem restless and generally uninterested in English. There are other reasons, of course, that may contribute to this, but internet addiction seems to be one of the biggest. Awareness of this addiction has also allowed me to know how to help my students better. Often, I will make suggestions about other activities that they can participate in to enrich their lives. I encourage them to go to the library and practice reading English books. I will also ‘push’ university students to join local English clubs and attend other English activities. For those students who simply cannot peel their eyes away from their computer monitor, I remind them that they can use their English skills to read English news and expand their knowledge base online. As I have written about previously, it seems that many English students do not realize what a valuable tool English is for acquiring information.

It is only in China’s development itself that a remedy can be found for this problem of Internet addiction. At present, there is not much to hold onto or work towards for millions in China but hopefully more and more dreams will become attainable as China’s economy and social infrastructures continue to improve.

Can China Win the Battle Against Pirates?

It was official 20 days ago. As of July 1st, 2008, it is illegal in China to upload or download copyrighted information without permission from the original source, according to a report from Xinhua. The article states that “anyone uploading texts, and performance, sound and video recordings to the Internet for downloading, copying or other use, must acquire the permission of the copyright owners and pay the required fee.” Those who violate this new law are subject to a fine of up to 100,000 Yuan (approximately 12,500 USD). According to the report, “Internet providers should delete the content and links upon receiving the written notice from the copyright holders.”

A quick perusal through the popular Chinese media site Tudou.com seems to demonstrate that this new law has had little or no effect on the quantity of movies and TV shows that are available for download. For example, I can still watch last season’s finale of the American TV show “The Office” and watch most if not all of this year’s movie hit “Kung Fu Panda.” There seems to be more content available than ever on a number of Chinese media sites that I have visited. The fact is, you can still find links to almost any copyright material imaginable on a variety of Chinese websites.

Is this surprising? Of course not. Most Chinese people that I know watch their favorite Western and Chinese shows through an online medium. Buying a legal copy of a TV series or a movie is just too expensive for the average Chinese person (and pretty expensive for the average ‘anyone’ in the world as well). Many, especially in the younger generation, will spend an entire night at an Internet cafe, playing games and watching shows and movies. If all of the links to such entertainment suddenly disappeared one day, thousands of Internet cafes across China would lose untold revenue and the economy would most likely suffer. The fact is, illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted material in China is a big business that is not going away anytime soon.

Am I defending the violation of copyright law? Of course not. It is just that in this case, it is easy to predict that this new copyright law will have little effect on the Chinese entertainment industry. After all, the Chinese government has utterly failed in its fight against pirated DVD’s and music. You do not even have to go into the back alleys of China to find bootlegged copies of the latest Hollywood movies. You can walk into shopping malls and supermarkets and find DVD stores with an entire stock of pirated material. The only problem that Chinese people have to deal with is finding quality copies that are clear and complete.  

Unfortunately, the Chinese government not only has to fight the production of copied material in its own country but it also has to reckon with millions of illegal CD’s, DVD’s, and VCD’s which are smuggled into China from other Asian countries. The government simply does not have enough manpower to deal with the millions of songs, movies, and TV shows that can be downloaded online. In addition, it is likely that those government officials who are in charge of ridding the Internet of copyrighted material are simply not going to pursue the enforcement of this new law very enthusiastically. Whether young or old, no one in China wants to pay premium prices for music and DVD’s. An adult student recently told me that he “did not feel guilty buying bootlegged DVD’s” because otherwise it would be impossible for him to afford the high cost of buying “the real thing.”

So what can the CCP do to effectively enforce this new policy? Well, I suppose they could start by forcing popular media sites like Tudou.com to remove links to copyrighted material. The problem is, there are thousands of sites like Tudou.com around the world which deliver these TV shows and movies to Chinese viewers. It is simply a battle that cannot be won. The best way for the Chinese government and the music companies to combat piracy is to either dramatically lower prices or provide a legal ad supported medium for people to download such material. In light of the recent writers strike in Hollywood and another threatened strike within the movie industry, prices are probably not going down. However, the second idea is already being tested in the United States by some of the major TV networks which have made select TV shows available for free download on their websites.

In the end, this new copyright law is going to suffer the same fate that many other well intentioned laws have suffered in China; most people will probably never even hear about it. I was just in an Internet cafe yesterday. To my right someone was giggling as they watched Meet the Fockers and to my left someone else was spellbound by an old episode of Prison Break. What did I think? I guess I was happy that they could find some enjoyment in the midst of the harsh reality that probably confronts them every day in this developing country.