‘There is always a need for intoxication: China has opium, Islam has hashish, the West has woman.’ – Andre Malraux
Nightclub owners contentedly patted their money-filled pockets, waves of opium smoke filtered from the doorways of night-time establishments out onto the streets carrying out a silent nocturnal choking of the darkness while nightclub frequenters lay paralysed in a soundless sofa-bound ecstasy- 150 years ago China was a nation crippled by addiction. In an effort to gain the upper hand in the world of trade against the majestic oriental land of silk and with an underhand but ingenious military ploy, the British had brought over opium, leaving China strategically handicapped and defeated. Soldiers unwilling to fight, chefs unwilling to cook, teachers unwilling to teach- the Chinese had not only lost Hong Kong, they had lost themselves.
150 years on, China has succumbed to the bittersweet taste of quite another intoxicating addiction, that of online gaming. Like the opium dens of the 1830‘s, from dusk until dawn the smoke-filled internet cafés of today do a roaring trade; filled with male students and middle aged men alike, many of them stay open 24 hours a day to cater for the population’s growing computer game dependence.
In an average shared boys university dormitory room of 8, at least half are likely to be addicted to gaming. ‘In my economics class of 65, only 2 boys are not addicted to online games. My roommates often don’t attend lectures, they only leave the room to eat and then stay up gaming until 2am’ explains Weiwei from Tianjin University of Technology. ‘My son refused to go to work, I was forced to drive him everyday and drop him off directly at the internet café afterwards or he would not attend’ informs Mr. Gu, a lecturer from the same University. Jin Aibing from Hebei province did not contact his family for four and a half years because of his gaming addiction, while arguments between online gamers have lead to crimes such as that of Qiu Chengwei from Shanghai who murdered fellow gamer Zhu Caoyuan due to a dispute involving a virtual sword. The issue of online addiction has worsened to the extent that parents have even sent their children to militarist government-run internet rehab camps.
For some however, addiction comes with a delicious silver lining; a handful of players become so adept at meandering their way around the gaming world that they become professional online ‘sports stars’, earning themselves a sought-after status akin to celebrities, complete with the family praise & multi-million wage packet. Others have found internet gaming to be a romantic platform far superior to commercial online dating as they are finally able to connect with like-minded peers from all over the world, many meeting girlfriends or marriage partners through this virtual realm of war & weaponry.
What’s more, the internet has proven an eye-opening gateway to personal freedom as frequently introverted ‘cyber geeks’ become suave members of an online global society, many learn programming and all things cyberspace, making them able to manipulate the online world with far more confidence and ease than they are the constricting everyday world of politics, family duty and obligation that many have shunned.
Thus, China’s one-party governmental system has felt the thudding threat of an augmenting cyber population; once before sheltered in a cocoon of CCTV party propaganda, adept online gamers are now able to breach the communist party’s famous ‘Great Firewall of China‘, accessing otherwise censored websites such as Facebook and Youtube as well as information on international news, foreign blogs, government scandals and anti-government forums. In 2009 this created a platform for Baidu‘s [China’s largest search engine] ’10 mythical creatures’, names for mythical Chinese creatures transformed into derogatory internet terms as a means of undermining government restraints on online and offline freedom in China.
Are Chinese government concerns for online gaming rooted in a wish to cleanse a nation intoxicated by addiction or a desire to tighten political grip on the increasingly slippery political fish that is the cyber population? A land famed for its Confucianism and extraordinary educational values- why is China losing its once ambitious scholars to the virtual world? What will become of the children of modern China?
Perhaps history holds the answers.
China Through the Ages
1950’s to 1960’s
In 1961, Communism ruled its great red hand over China; Chairman Mao‘s attempt to rapidly manufacture steel and redistribute rice with the Great Leap Forward (三年自然灾害 ) was a notoriously great leap backwards as rice production failed to meet targets and exaggerations of harvest yields made in order to keep violent officials at bay resulted in huge produce miscalculations. Local household goods melted in citizens’ back gardens to help boost the iron industry had resulted in tonnes upon tonnes of unusable scrap metal whilst rice had been redistributed away from the countryside meaning villagers were left to suffer a famine 5 times more deadly than Hitler, killing over 30 million.
How has history affected the people of modern China? Much villainizing of Mao Zedong has been done by western media, yet with rice transported to every town he passed through and waves of golden fields greeting him at every turn throughout his tour of China during the 3 years of the Great Leap Forward- is Chairman Mao as much to blame for China’s suffering as we perceive him to be?
Shaped by both the struggles and peaks of prosperity of their time, this is the story of one family, it is equally the story of a nation…
With more than 30 million dead and survivors still reeling from the famine, Chairman Mao wanted to not only rebuild a broken country left knee-deep in poverty, he wanted to build an army. 人多力量大 ‘more people, more power’, Mao’s infamous and infinitely destructive four little words pronounced in an effort to increase China’s birth rate have resonated through decades like time-travelling razor blades infiltrating Chinese society.
By the late 1960’s, the People’s Liberation Army was already growing in power; however, to avoid take-over by Marx’s so termed Ruling Class and to assure communism reigned freely over his motherland, dissidents and scholars needed to be disposed of- so began the great Cultural Revolution. Wealthy families were accused of being capitalist and their houses were ransacked for money, treasures and cultural artefacts by government officials. Schools were shut down, most museums, ancient buildings and scriptures were burned, non-communist theatre performances and literature were made illegal and during the famous 100 Flowers Movement, Chairman Mao gave poets 100 days of literary liberty to allow their literary talents to flourish free-from communist constraints, after which he had them executed as anti-communist.
Following the Cultural Revolution, schools that had been closed down were re-opened and young people sent to the countryside to make steel for the Great Leap Forward started to make their way back to the cities in search of work; however, they had missed out on many much needed years of education and as they entered into adulthood were to exhaustingly juggle work and family whilst also attending night-time education programs as they faced the prospect of competing with their educated younger counterparts for work. In 1976 Deng Xiaoping introduced new economic reforms as part of an initiative termed ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics‘, which opened up free trade, allowing small-scale businesses to flourish and would soon radically change the shape of China.
As the late 1980’s rolled by, Mao’s endeavours to instigate change & ignite the nation’s power through a baby boom had backfired dramatically- China’s population size was exploding exponentially; family planning initiatives had not proven effective enough and China’s population increase was set to cause a heavy exhaustion of national resources. To minimise damage the One Child Policy was introduced- a policy that would result in forced abortions, an abundance of female infanticide and an imbalanced male to female population ratio as families craved a male heir, but a scheme that would ultimately reduce a worryingly large population size.
China’s One Child Policy withheld young couples the human right to choose their family size but without the financial burden of multiple children -compounded by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms- allowed Chinese families to prosper. With both parents typically working, it fell to retired grandparents to take care of the children. From the famine of the Great Leap Forward to the constriction and educational destruction of the Cultural Revolution, having lived through Maoist China many did not wish to see their only grandchild endure hardship as they once had. Modern China has thus become burdened with a generation of pampered over-indulged youths- otherwise termed ‘Little Emperors’ (小皇帝) – easily susceptible to the modern charms of material goods and online gaming.
Pride, shame and keeping face remain pillars of modern Chinese society and although the technology-preoccupied younger generation’s material needs are often catered for, China’s only children must now bear the weight of parental expectations to make one’s family proud and to care for one’s elders financially that would have once been shared among siblings.
Is it the promise of an imagined land free from the pressures of filial obligation, education, finance and reality what makes the virtual world so appealing to China’s overworked and emotionally overburdened students?
Traditionalism and family values remain interwoven into modern Chinese lifestyles and following the One Child Policy, bonds between cousins have particularly strengthened as only children look to their cousins for sibling-like friendships to quench the loneliness of a one child family.
‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.’ -Napoleon
- Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
- Taking a great leap backward to chairman Mao’s birth 120 years ago (irishtimes.com)
- The History that Drove Mao’s Decisions as China’s Leader: Part 1 of 2 (ilookchina.net)