In 2008, China’s government added an entry to the list of conditions classified as mental illnesses: “Internet addiction.” According to numerous reports in state-run media, China’s young people were spending too much time in Internet cafes, ignoring family or work to play online games into the wee hours, sometimes neglecting to eat, drink, or sleep, and endangering their own health.
Anxiety about addiction to screen time gave rise to a dubious new line of businesses: boot camps, often run by ex-military personnel, promising to help wayward youth kick the habit. But investigative reports published in recent days by Beijing News and the Mirror reveal abusive conditions, leading to the death of at least one student, at the Zhengzhou Boqiang New Idea Life Training School—which billed itself as an Internet-addiction recovery camp in eastern Henan province.
A 19-year-old girl, referred to as Guo Lingling (this may be a pseudonym), was allegedly struck and kicked repeatedly by her so-called instructors after failing to ask permission to go to the bathroom. An autopsy report showed she died from skull injuries and brain damage.
When her mother came to the school to collect Guo’s remains, other students gave the grieving woman their names and phone numbers, asking for her help in contacting their own parents to get them out of the boot camp. One of the practices of the facility, which aimed to “reform” behavior through fear-based training and harsh discipline, was to limit students’ contact with the outside world.
Local educational authorities have since revoked Zhengzhou Boqiang New Idea Life Training School’s license and launched an investigation into its record. Hauntingly, the school’s website remains online, replete with photos of students in camouflage uniforms performing drills and attending what the site labels “wonderful lectures.”