Sent to an internet addiction rehabilitation center for, well, being addicted to the internet, 14 year-old Chen Wei (a pseudonym) couldn't take the treatment at the center. So much so that he tried to kill himself to escape.
Chen Wei from Wuhan, Hubei province, was "addicted" to online multiplayer games. Not sure what to do with her son, Mrs. Chen decided to send him to a walk-in clinic that specialized in the treatment of internet addiction. After calling the center and telling them of her son's predicament, two burly men arrived at Chen's home and escorted him to the clinic.
After spending some time at the rehabilitation clinic, Chen Wei couldn't take the pressure anymore. He posted online that he saw patients being beaten by "instructors", he even described a scene where the a teacher took a student to the track and then proceeded to beat the said student.
Fearing for his life at such a violent institution, Chen Wei saw no escape other than committing suicide by swallowing pencil lead. Pencil lead.
Luckily, Chen Wei survived and his mother had the sense to withdraw him from the institute. I'll get to this later so don't hate on his mother right now.
Internet addiction is a huge problem in China, a country that currently has 538 million active internet users. According to reports that start from 2010, there are at least 24 million young people suffering from internet addiction.
Unfortunately for those in China labeled "internet addicts", the Chinese Ministry of Health doesn't have a clear definition for what an "internet addict" actually is. This oversight has led to the widespread use of the term and the creation of an industry that is built to "fix" Chinese internet addicts, whether they're addicted to the internet as a whole or just parts of the internet such as social media and online video games.
Recently, internet addiction has returned to the forefront of Chinese social issues, and Chen Wei's case has helped draw more coverage of the issue. Reporters from various Chinese media groups attempted to verify Chen Wei's story.
Posing as concerned parents, reporters from Sina contacted the very same institute that Chen Wei had been in. They called to withdraw a child from the clinic; supposedly after 30 minutes of conversation they were invited to a face to face with the head of the clinic. When they met with him, he tried to persuade the reporters to let their child stay and that staying was the only way the child would get better. According to Mrs. Chen, they had tried the exact same argument when she tried to take Chen Wei home after his failed suicide.
The reasoning behind keeping children at the institute isn't all about supposedly "fixing" children, but also money. Clinics that specialize in internet addiction are able to, according to reports found by Sina, make $3185 off a three month treatment course, and a "special" all included course costs about $6000.
So what exactly does three grand of "tuition" get prospective parents of internet addicts? Well, according to Sina and People's Daily, tuition pays for a military school/bootcamp-esque regiment of physical and mental training that is specifically designed to break down the addict's need for the internet. In the case of Chen Wei's "clinic", reporters found that there were only two teachers that taught classes once a week on the entire premises. Students at the "clinic" were subjugated to mostly physical education.
Chen Wei's been home for a few months now but the effects of attending the internet addiction clinic has left a profound effect on him, said his mother. Chen Wei no longer attends school anymore and is very paranoid, so much so that he carries a pocket knife with him wherever he goes. He has one in bed, and one on his person at all times.
"If I had to make the choice again, I would have never sent him off," said Mrs. Chen.
(Top photo: Pencil Lead: Shutterstock)
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.