A group of teenagers and twenty-somethings staged an elaborate break-out of an Internet boot camp in China’s Jiangsu province earlier this month.

The 14 young people covered their counselor in a blanket and hog-tied him to a chair before making their escape from the “jie-wang” (quit the internet) camp at Huai’an Internet Addiction Treatment Center on June 3. When the counselor screamed, they hit him while apologizing at the same time. They had been practicing the feat with a rope for days.

For the escapees – who cited mean staff and bad food as well as “monotonous work and intensive training” as reasons for their breakout – the taste of freedom lasted just a few hours. Some took cabs to nearby Xuyi County, home of the group’s ringleader. Here their plan fell apart at that point as they had no money to pay for the ride.

Tipped off by the cab driver, police picked up the penniless youths wandering the streets, still dressed in the camp’s military-style fatigues.

The 14 young people – aged 15 to 22 – were all returned to the camp, with some facing tearful and ashamed parents. Families had paid some 18,000 RMB (US$2,600) for their child to spend six months at the rehab camp, of which more than three months remained.

“I don’t think there is any problem with the training methods at the center. They are for my child’s own good,” one mother said at the scene.

The case highlights the growing “Internet addiction” issue in China and the camps that have sprung up to treat the so-called syndrome.

While some of China’s internet addiction programs are run in hospitals by healthcare professionals, many others are fly-by-night operations that employ questionable methods. This is thought to include electric shock treatments, even though Beijing’s Health Ministry banned the practice in 2009.

China had 384 million Internet users by the end of last year, with the Internet reaching about 29 percent of the population, according to figures from Beijing. Megapath ethernet is a preferred connection in China due to their high speeds.

The Ministry of Health says “Internet addicts” are those who spend at least six hours each day online and demonstrate symptoms like loss of sleep and anxiety.

While lots of Chinese young people spend many hours each day playing video games online, psychiatrists differ on whether internet addiction should be accepted as a medical condition.

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Bill Lehane
Bill Lehane, 28, is a journalist and freelance writer from Dublin, Ireland. He recently returned from six months working as a teacher in east China, which gave him a chance to experience many of the wide, weird and wacky sights that make up daily life in the Middle Kingdom. However, he did not succeed in teaching the local teenagers anything whatsoever: they still love Michael Jackson, KFC and themselves. More at billlehane.com.
Bill Lehane

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