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March 13, 2009

Internet Addiction in China: Is it a Government Issue?

It was not too long ago I heard a statement about the amount of Internet users in China (at the time about 160 million) would soon be more than the entire population of the United States (approximately 300 million). It wasn’t a question of more Internet users in China than the U.S., but China would have more Internet users than the whole population of the U.S.A. Currently, China has about 290 million Internet users, which is about 21 percent of China’s population, an increase of 130 million in about a year and a half. Compare that to the amount of Internet users in the US (220 million users, about 70 percent of the population) and it shows the extent of the possibilities of growth in this communication for China. However, having such a large number of Internet users in a country with a Communist government, an economy on the rise, and a global standard to meet and exceed that of competitors on the international scene, comes with great responsibility and even greater rules and regulations.

The most alarming part of these figures is the work cut out for China to maintain their country’s policies and uphold them. In addition, the effect of many members of their society to get attached to the Internet creates a new dimension to their responsibilities. A recent survey finds that Chinese spend a majority of their leisure time online. This creates problems for the government to maintain a healthy relationship between its citizens and the communication tools they utilize. Although some of the restrictions enforced by China’s government may prevent negative effects of the Internet such as online gambling or pornography, it does not necessarily limit the amount of time Chinese citizens spend playing online games and socializing with others on the net. The treatment center established for Internet addicts in Beijing by Chinese psychologist, Tao Ran, is impressive and very useful for the development of the country in a positive direction. However, it would be more beneficial for the government to have more support for this treatment center, it that it can help its citizens become more productive.

China though has it own concerns with the Internet. China has made restrictions on posts or information that was in favor of Tibetan or Taiwan independence; a move the government feels is unsafe to public order. The issue not only affects the people of China, but organizations and business that operate through the Internet. The California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) filed a petition arguing that China’s restrictions affect the US service providers, in that they would have to seek government approval or work from a local level by registering. This issue may be a violation of China’s trade agreements in their association with the World Trade Organization.

The problem becomes that the Chinese government is getting help from other countries that want to tap into China's Internet market. Because China makes it difficult for them to operate freely, any company or country looking to establish a business online would have to conform to the rules and regulations that China has set forth, no matter how unjust or intolerable. Even if any individuals post or send information through the so called "China's Great Fire Wall," archiving and retrieving information is important in their operation, in which any post may be cleaned out, but the information is still there to be retrieved when they deem it possible and necessary. This may constitute as an overly extreme tight control, but in the Communist operation, it seems as though that is how things will be run, at least for the moment. Which is why they want to block out any of the discussions and postings about independence, protests, and overthrowing the communist rule because it would be at their disadvantage.

So where does this leave us? Well, while the Chinese government focuses on maintaining their Communist rule, the citizens are suffering from Internet addiction mainly associated with playing online games and socializing. Does it not make sense that some protestors and activists may also be Internet addicts that have plenty of time to create posts or discussions against the government’s operation? It may be possible to assume that other than friends and family to monitor Internet addicts, the technology to do so may not be available. However, the Internet is a supposedly a democratic media environment in any given country or state; therefore, it is understood that the way the government handles this medium and the mass media in general, would have a large implication on the use and even perhaps the distribution of the Internet within its territorial influence.