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2020 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

3. Spiritual Opium: The Internet Addiction Panic and the Spiritually Ailing Nation

Author: Marcella Szablewicz

Published in: Mapping Digital Game Culture in China

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

This chapter analyzes the phenomenon of Internet cafés and Internet gaming as portrayed in dominant media discourse, with a focus on the moral panic about Internet addiction. The chapter begins with an analysis of Chinese media reports published between 2000 and 2019. Next, the chapter focuses on the argument that the Internet and digital games, in particular, constitute a dangerous form of spiritual opium. In equating the Internet with opium, the Chinese media frame it as a “foreign” substance that poses a threat to the nation and, most notably, the productivity of its young male citizens. Yet before opium became the scourge that it is known as today, it was first considered to be a substance that could “replenish the spirit.” This double discursive construction mirrors that of the Internet café, as portrayed in the previous chapter. By engaging with academic scholarship on the social use of opium and the manner in which the social significance of opium use itself has shifted over time, this chapter draws out issues of class that lie hidden within the present-day discourse. Finally, the chapter addresses the network of actors and issues that have contributed to the moral panic about Internet addiction.

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Footnotes
1
World Economic Forum, “Global Gender Gap Report”; China’s gender imbalance has grown steadily worse since the imposition of the one-child policy. According to the 2018 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, China’s sex ratio at birth is 0.87 (female/male), meaning that there are only 87 females to every 100 males at birth. This score places China last out of all 149 countries measured.
 
2
Jenkins, “The Chinese Columbine”; Golub and Lingley, “‘Like the Qing Empire’”; Qiu, Working-Class Network Society, 240; Szablewicz, “Effects of Opium for the Spirit.”
 
3
Vogrinčič, “The Novel Reading Panic,” 113.
 
4
Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics.
 
5
Aarseth et al., “Scholars Open Debate Paper.”
 
6
Latour, Have Never Been Modern; Vrecko, “‘Civilizing Technologies,’” 37, 40.
 
7
Campbell, Using women, 8.
 
8
Hall et al., Policing the Crisis, 60.
 
9
Yan, ed., “Zhengzhi wangluo ‘jingshen yapian’”; see also Baidu Baike, “jingshen yapian.”
 
10
See Zhao, Media, Market and Democracy and Repnikova, Media Politics in China.
 
11
Ni, “Dens of the cyber addicts.”
 
12
Jenkins, “Chinese Columbine.”
 
13
For a detailed discussion of Internet addiction treatment in China see Bax, Youth and Internet Addiction in China.
 
14
“Fan keyi bu chi.”
 
15
Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Wei chengnian ren baohu fa.
 
16
“Shi nian youxi zhanzheng.”
 
17
“Wo guo shou ge ‘wangluo cheng yin.’”
 
18
Bax, Youth and Internet Addiction, 16.
 
19
MacKinnon, “China’s Green Dam.”
 
20
MacKinnon, “Green Dam is Breached.”
 
21
Cao, Wang, and Lan, “Warcraft Row.”
 
22
Bai, “Yige wang jie zhongxin.”
 
23
Jiang, “Dianji zhiliao wangyin.”
 
24
Stone, “China Reins in Wilder Impulses.”
 
25
Zhang, “Wang yin shaonian sile.”
 
26
Cui, “‘Ertong yu wangluo shiyan shi.’”
 
27
Huang, “Weisheng bu ni fouding wang yin.”
 
28
Jiang, “Dianji zhiliao wangyin.”
 
29
See Creemers, “Pivot in Chinese Cybergovernance”; The Cyberspace Administration of China was created in 2014 in an effort to centralize control over the Internet and rectify jurisdictional infighting between government bodies (such as the aforementioned spat between the MOC and GAPP over World of Warcraft licensing).
 
30
Ma, “China Mulls Banning.”
 
31
He, “Wei chengnian ren wangluo baohu.”
 
32
Wang, “Zhong quan zhengzhi luanxiang.”
 
33
Niko Partners, “Nearly 1,000 Games.”
 
34
Zhonghua renmin gonghe guo, “Zonghe fang kong ertong.”
 
35
Xiao et al., “Qingshao nian wangyin cheng.”
 
36
Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, 1.
 
37
I have omitted cartoons from this analysis, but it is worth noting that drawings grant journalists far more artistic license in depicting Internet addiction. By far the most prevalent cartoon is one in which a young child, usually a boy, is being literally sucked into a computer screen. There are numerous variations on this theme: sometimes the wire of the mouse has wrapped itself, like a python, around the body of a screaming child, and sometimes parents are depicted pulling at the pant-leg of their child, in desperate game of tug-of-war with the computer.
 
38
Due to a lack of copyright permissions, I cannot reproduce these photographs here. Where possible, I provide a citation with a link to the original newspaper article and image.
 
39
boyd, It’s Complicated, 79.
 
40
It is no coincidence the evil spirits that kidnap little Carol Anne emerge from within the television screen. In the 1970s and 1980s, Americans were in the midst of their own techno-panic. Marie Winn published her sensational book The Plug-In Drug in 1977 and Neil Postman published The Disappearance of Childhood: How TV is Changing Children’s Lives in 1982.
 
41
Xiao and Chou, “Xinhua diaocha: yige wangyin qingnian.”
 
42
“Xinmi tanli: Wangyin.”
 
43
“Nao dianbo chengxiang.”
 
44
Rose, Politics of Life Itself, 234.
 
45
boyd, It’s Complicated, 92.
 
46
Jin, “Shaonian wei jiechu wangyin.”
 
47
Han, ed. “Kunming liangwei.”
 
48
Huang, “Fuqin hui dao zican.”
 
49
Fong, Only Hope.
 
50
“Wangyin shaonian zhaohui.”
 
51
Unger, ed., Past to Serve the Present, 1.
 
52
Des Forges, “Opium/leisure/Shanghai,” 168.
 
53
Golub and Lingley, “Just Like the Qing Empire.”
 
54
McGee, “The ‘Ideograph,’” 6.
 
55
Condit and Lucaites, Crafting Equality, xiii.
 
56
Lu, Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 52.
 
57
Yoon, “Making of Neo-Confucian Cyberkids,” 754.
 
58
Lock, “New Japanese Mythologies.”
 
59
“Zhongguo Wangluo,” n.d.
 
60
Golub and Lingley, “Just Like the Qing Empire,” 60.
 
61
Pickowicz, “Theme of Spiritual Pollution.”
 
62
Shi, “Cong duhai zhong jingxing.”
 
63
Chen, “Hao Xiaohui tan Zhongguo wangyou.”
 
64
Davies, “Patriot Games.”
 
65
Xiao, “PowerNet and China Communist Youth.”
 
66
Dikotter, “Patient Zero,” 3–4.
 
67
Dikotter, 11.
 
68
Zheng, Social Life of Opium, 4.
 
69
Zhou, Anti-Drug Crusades, 13, emphasis added.
 
70
Dikotter, Laamann, and Zhou, Narcotic Culture, 35.
 
71
Zhao, “Qianqiuhua yu zhongguo qingnian,” 224.
 
72
China Internet Network Information Center, 2007 nian zhongguo qingshaonian, 2.
 
73
Qiu, Working-Class Network Society, 22.
 
74
Munn, “Hong Kong Opium Revenue,” 109.
 
75
Baumler, “Opium Control versus Opium Suppression,” 271.
 
76
Hu, “Huxi ye shi shangyinde.”
 
77
Jingji ban xiaoshi, “Wangyin shaonian chengle.”
 
78
Xi, “Impact upon Chinese young people’s development.”
 
79
Ben-Yehuda, “Foreword: Moral Panics,” 2.
 
80
McRobbie and Thornton, “Rethinking ‘Moral Panic.’”
 
81
Yang, Power of the Internet, 3.
 
82
“China Web Portals Pledge.”
 
83
Yu and Wang, ed., “Renming Wang Yiping: ‘Wangzhe rongyu.’”
 
84
Pickowicz, “Theme of Spiritual Pollution,” 38.
 
85
See MacKinnon, “Eating River Crab.” The building of a “harmonious society” was a slogan used by the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao administration. MacKinnon notes that following Wen’s proclamation at the World Economic Forum in 2007, the government in fact began a “purge” of Internet data centers and controversial websites. As a result, Chinese netizens began to use the word “harmonize” as a euphemism for Internet censorship.
 
Metadata
Title
Spiritual Opium: The Internet Addiction Panic and the Spiritually Ailing Nation
Author
Marcella Szablewicz
Copyright Year
2020
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-36111-2_3