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China opens net addiction clinic

Acupuncture and Winnie the Pooh aid web junkies

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Proof that China continues to wholeheartedly embrace all that is good about Western capitalism comes with the news that the nascent economic superpower now has a clinic where net-frazzled comrades can tackle their web addiction.

The state-run facility in Beijing currently has 12 inmates who rise at 6am for a programme of sports, acupuncture and medication - all designed to wean them off the net and back into the real world, AP reports.

The clinic's director, Dr. Tao Ran, explained: "All the children here have left school because they are playing games or in chat rooms everyday. They are suffering from depression, nervousness, fear and unwillingness to interact with others, panic and agitation. They also have sleep disorders, the shakes and numbness in their hands."

One 20-year-old, who reportedly spent 20 hours a day gaming online to the detriment of his studies, said: "I wasn't normal. In school I didn't pay attention when teachers were talking. All I could do was think about playing the next game. Playing made me happy, I forgot my problems." Another 21-year-old confessed: "I would stay up for 24 hours. I would eat only in front of the computer."

Tao's addiction-killing therapy includes "sessions on a machine that stimulates nerve impulses with 30-volt charges to pressure points" and intravenous administration of an unnamed "clear fluid" said to "adjust the unbalanced status of brain secretions". Between bouts of having their brain secretions rebalanced, patients can lounge about in rooms which are "sunny, decorated with artificial flowers, Winnie the Pooh comforters and a 17-inch television".

We're not sure that Winnie the Pooh comforters are an adequate substitute for an 18-hour session on Counterstrike, but at a cool $48 per day (the average city worker's weekly wage is $20), you'd expect a bit of cuddly toy and TV action for your bucks.

Quite what the Chinese authorities make of all this is not recorded, but it will certainly add credence to their assertion that China's youth are having their morals eroded by exposure to the internet. Mind you, they only have themselves to blame. In countries where having more than one child will not result in the parents being clipped round the ear with a copy of the Little Red Book, kids might at least have a younger brother to torment rather than taking out their frustrations with a virtual assault rifle.

For his part, Tao reckons there might be 2.5 million Chinese suffering from net addiction, although this may not be as apocalyptic as the good doc suggests. Kuang Wenbo, a professor of mass media at Beijing's Renmin University, said: "As the number of the netizens grows, the number of the addicted people will grow as well, but we should not worry about the issue too much. The young men at the age of growing up have their own problems. Even if there was no internet they will get addicted to other things." ®

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