As the nation with the largest number of internet users, online addiction is a growing problem in Chinese society. For one family in Guangzhou City it meant losing almost everything.
Shocked father Mr Mo of Guangzhou City woke up to a huge surprise on the morning of October 19. He found that his bank balance of about USD $6,000 (40,000RMB) had been run down without his knowledge and the payee was a popular online game platform. An investigation showed his 10-year old son had spent the money on virtual equipment for an online game.
The devastating impact of his son’s online addiction has shattered this family. But the young boy’s problem is becoming common place. Figures from the China Internet Network Information Centre shows the total number of Internet users in China has hit 750 million people, making it the highest in the world. Around one in five of these is a young person under 19 years old. And in another worrying detail, one in ten Chinese children are thought to be internet addicts; most of these are male.
An unexpected outcome
Mo and his wife sell vegetables at a local market and had bought a computer for his son to study. He admits that around the middle of August, his son asked him for his ID and phone, claiming that they were necessary to reset the password of QQ (a social software from Tencent). The next he knew of the problems ahead was a notification in the middle of September that his cable television bill had been declined because of a lack of funds.
The cautious father dashed to the bank and checked the account, only to find that thousands upon thousands of his hard-earned cash had vanished. According to the account statement, the boy’s spending varied from transactions of 615 RMB (USD $100), right up to 998 RMB (USD $147). The largest amount was 1896 RMB (USD $280).
As the shock sank in it occurred to him that his son had been playing computer games so he asked him if he knew what had happened. The boy could not give him a clear answer. When Mo looked at the computer’s web history he found that the computer visited online games frequently. that the default login name was exactly his son’s QQ number.
To figure it out, Mo called the customer services of Tenpay. The worker checked and told him that the user purchased the weapons and sets and paid through QQ. “The latest operation was on October 7 and the user bought some sets in the game.”
A wasted future
Mo said to the reporter of Guangzhou Daily that his family had saved money for years to support their son’s college education. “This was hard-earned money, the whole savings of my family,” he explained. His wife added that they were not well-educated and could only make a hard living by selling vegetables. The husband had to deal with the wholesale of vegetables at 3 a.m. and work on the stand from 6 a.m. “We don’t make much money. We live from hand to mouth and struggle to support the kid’s education in Guangzhou.”
Xu Han, a lawyer from Guangdong Zhengda United law firm, said young people over 10 years old but under 16 have a limited capacity for civil conduct. As such national contract law stated, “A contract concluded by a person with limited capacity for civil conduct is valid only after it is ratified by the statutory agent, but the ratification is not necessary if the contract is purely profit-seeking, or adapts to the juveniles’ age, intelligence and mental health.”
So in this case, the contract the boy entered into to purchase the virtual equipment does not meet these terms unless it is ratified by a statutory agent (his father). But in practice, the online payment did require an identification code. As such, even if Mo insisted he was unaware of the transactions, and had refused to ratify them, then he would face difficulties in providing any evidence.
Time to get tough?
The future already looks dark for Mr Mo and his family but the government is trying to step in and take decisive action to help young people with internet addiction issues. First came the rise of Internet “boot camps” where children can undergo a “digital detox” while their worried parents await their return. Yet despite growing numbers of attendees according to one camp specialist the problem is real, and growing, “It destroys relationships and deteriorates the body without the person knowing,” he explains.
“All of them have eyesight and back problems and suffer from eating disorders. In addition, we have discovered that their brain capacity is reduced by eight per cent, and the psychological afflictions are serious,” adds the expert. Based on his experiences anyone spending six hours or more on the internet is in need of support.
The other part of the Chinese approach to the problem is proposed new legislation from the Cyberspace Administration of China where children under 18 years of age will not be allowed to play games online after midnight. This follows an earlier initiative where points were deducted from a player’s score when they played for three hours or more. But is a technological solution the answer to a truly social problem?
Our societies are becoming increasingly disconnected. And although we interact with new people and environments online, we use digital personas that are bereft of the contact between generations which lies at the heart of Asian culture. In that context perhaps cutting off access to online gaming does not dig far enough into the reasoning behind the obsessive behaviour in the first place. As long as people see a better life for themselves online, and the opportunities open to them seem limited to the hard graft of a market vegetable stall, getting lost in a world of digital gameplay is a price worth paying.