A new crackdown on Internet cafes

Bruce Einhorn

Well that didn’t take long. On May 5th, bombs exploded at two Internet cafes in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province in southeastern China. Two people died. I mentioned in a New Tech in Asia post a few days later that the Chinese government has, for several years now, been trying to crack down on Internet cafes, since many mandarins see them as dangerous places where teenagers spend too much time playing online games or accessing porn or other forbidden content. The bombings came just when it seemed to some people that the government might be relaxing a bit and preparing to take a more lenient attitude toward Internet cafes, which (because of the relatively low level of PC ownership in China) play a vital role in the strategies of Chinese Internet companies. After the explosions, though, I said that liberalization was likely to be on the back burner.

And sure enough, less than a week later officials launched a new crackdown on Internet cafes. The China Daily, the official English-language newspaper published in Beijing, reports that the city government “has started a three-month campaign to scrutinize the city's 1,007 licensed Internet cafes.” The goal is to go after cafes that illegally admit minors. Or, as the China Daily describes a local Beijing newspaper’s dramatic description, the government “intends to ‘completely wipe out’ the rampant malpractice among the city's Internet cafes, especially the practice of running without a license and admitting minors.” Let's see if this campaign is more successful than the ones the earlier ones. According to a report last year from Xinhua, the Internet cafe business is a $3.2 billion industry. With numbers like that, my guess is that the government will have a hard time keeping the cafes down and the kids out.

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