Since the 2004 establishment of the country’s first Internet Addiction Center, the military-run boot camp in Beijing where Wang took her son, more than 3,000 adolescent and young-adult patients have been treated for Internet addiction. Hundreds of similar treatment centers have mushroomed in recent years in China, joining other centers operating elsewhere in Asia and the U.S. The U.S.-based Center for Internet Addiction Recovery classifies the disorder as compulsive behavior in which “the Internet becomes the organizing principle of addicts’ lives.”
Though the fledgling disorder has been widely identified, defining it in China has not been easy. Tao Ran, director of the Beijing treatment center and a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), helped come up with a strict definition of Internet addiction last fall: consecutive usage of the Web for 6 hr. a day for three straight months is addiction. The new standard, which is still pending official endorsement by the Ministry of Health, has aroused widespread skepticism in Chinese cyberspace, with many arguing that too many people could be wrongly categorized as Internet addicts under this definition.