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date: 17 June 2024

Development and Effects of Internet Addiction in Chinafree

Development and Effects of Internet Addiction in Chinafree

  • Qiaolei JiangQiaolei JiangSchool of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University


Internet addiction is a growing social issue in many societies worldwide. With the largest number of Internet users worldwide, China has witnessed the growth of the Internet along with the development and effects of Internet addiction, especially among the young. Originally reported anecdotally in mass media, Internet addiction has become an issue of great public concern after more than 20 years. The process of Internet addiction as an emerging risk in the Chinese context can be a showcase for risks related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), health, and everyday life. The term Internet addiction was first coined in the Western context and has since been recognized as a technology-driven social problem in China. Plenty of anecdotes, increasing academic research, and public awareness and concerns have put the threat of Internet addiction firmly on the policy agenda. Therefore, for prevention and intervention, research projects, rehab facilities, welfare services, and self-help programs have spread all over the country, and related regulations, policies, and laws have changed accordingly. Although controversies remain, through the staging of, and coping with, Internet addiction, people can better understand China’s digital natives and contemporary life.


  • Communication and Technology
  • Health and Risk Communication
  • International/Global Communication


As of June 2008, China became the country with the world’s largest Internet population. According to the latest statistics from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), by the end of 2020, Chinese Internet users had reached 989 million, and Internet penetration rate had reached 70.4% of the general population (CNNIC, 2021a, p. 1), and as many as 94.9% of minors (CNNIC, 2021b, p. 1). Furthermore, along with the development and proliferation of the Internet, Chinese society has witnessed the development and influence of Internet addiction.

To understand the development and effects of Internet addiction in China, the term Internet addiction needs to be analyzed. Internet addiction as a disorder was first “discovered” in the United States, and the two English words were first translated into two Chinese words/characters, “Wang Yin,” correspondingly, while in recent years the Chinese translation “Wangluo Chenmi” has been used more often.

According to DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), the gold standard of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), addiction is a severe substance use disorder that can be diagnosed based on certain criteria, or symptoms (APA, 2013). In the DSM-5, symptoms of substance use disorders can be divided into four main categories: impaired control, social problems, risky use, and physical dependence. Therefore, addiction is usually substance-related, is not freely chosen, and needs to be diagnosed and treated by specialists or professionals. Gambling disorder, a new category of behavioral addiction, has been included in the DSM-5 chapter on addictive disorders, which indicates that, based on current research findings, gambling disorder is similar to substance use disorders with regard to clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, physiology, and treatment (APA, 2013). Although Internet gaming disorder has been identified as a condition warranting further research before being considered as a formal disorder to be included in the DSM, its inclusion in DSM-5 Section III reflects the increasing scientific literature on the use and influences of Internet games (APA, 2013).

Addiction translates into Mandarin Chinese as “Yin.” According to Xinhua Dictionary with English Translation, Yin means habitual craving or being particularly fond of something. In the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, Yin means habitual craving formed as a result of the central nervous system’s repeated exposure to a stimulus or, in a broad sense, strong interest. Conversely, in Chinese cultural terms, addiction is more human-centered. Although the nervous system is mentioned, the key point is that repeated exposure forms a habit or strong interest.

Although addiction means a strong habitual behavior in both American and Chinese culture, it has different focuses. In the United States, the notion of addiction is linked tightly to chemical dependency on alcohol or drugs, and addicted individuals are considered more passive. Such a concept of addiction places more blame on the substance, which causes the habit and loss of control over life. Therefore, the addicts are seen as helpless and in need of help or treatment. Conversely, in China, the concept of addiction is more focused on individuals. People are assumed to be more active and to have free will. Thus, addiction is seen as a freely chosen behavior, so the individuals in question are regarded as excessive users or as refusing to abide by the common moral code.

Internet addiction as a disorder was originally proposed by Dr. Ivan Goldberg in a sincere-looking but satirical hoax posted on the online psychiatric bulletin board (no longer available) in the United States in 1995 (Dalal & Basu, 2016; Wallis, 1997). Pathological gambling, as diagnosed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), was used as the model for the spoofed description and diagnostic criteria (Dalal & Basu, 2016).

Although Internet addiction was meant to be a hoax, Dr. Goldberg and the bulletin board were flooded with posts about painful stories and appeals for help, and the concept was promoted as a real condition by some scholars (Dalal & Basu, 2016; Wallis, 1997). One of the most famous researchers was Kimberly Young, who founded the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995 and wrote a groundbreaking book that was the first to identify and treat Internet addiction disorder, as well as to consider its effects on individuals and their families (Dalal & Basu, 2016; Netaddiction, 2020; Young, 1998a). Since then, research on, and attention to, Internet addiction have increased continuously in many societies.

In the Chinese context, Internet addiction has been adopted, adapted, and appropriated and has come to be regarded as a technology-driven social risk or problem. Although it is still controversial, Internet addiction seems to have gained legitimacy in China and has experienced rapid development at different levels.

To address the development and effects of Internet addiction in China, the main section of this article has been divided into three parts: staging, prevalence, and coping. The first section focuses on the staging of Internet addiction as a risk in China based on the media coverage of Internet addiction. It offers information on the prominence of Internet addiction in the Chinese context. The second section, on the prevalence of Internet addiction in China, explores high-risk categories, introduces the development of the Chinese diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction, and provides information on prevalence based on multiple investigation reports. The third section, on coping with Internet addiction, discusses the treatments for, regulation of, prevention of, and intervention strategies for Internet addiction in China, thereby expanding the understanding of the influence of Internet addiction in China.

Staging of Internet Addiction as Risk and Problem

Media reportage seems to lead to the staging of Internet addiction as a health risk and social problem in China. With the rapid and great development of the Internet in China, many social problems related to Internet activities and online entertainments have been heavily covered in the Chinese media, and Internet addiction is one of the topics. With plenty of pathological behaviors and bizarre stories being reported, Internet addiction has become a prominent social problem (Golub & Lingley, 2008; Jiang, 2019). Public attention, awareness, and concerns have been raised by the extensive media coverage of this issue (Jiang & Leung, 2012, 2015).

In China, Internet addiction first received media attention in 1998, with one news article in both Hong Kong and Taiwan, followed by four news articles in 1999 in mainland China (Jiang, 2019). Since then, media reports on Internet addiction have greatly increased each year.

Before the release of the diagnostic criteria, reports about Internet addiction were driven by a moral attitude, rather than a scientific consensus (Cui & Wu, 2016). Metaphors have been widely used in Chinese media coverage as important frames for the definition, cause, evaluation, and solution of Internet addiction (Jiang, 2019). Although more and more scientific studies have been conducted over the past two decades, people can still easily find metaphors, including “Internet opium” and “electronic heroin,” being used to address the issue of Internet addiction (Bax, 2016; Golub & Lingley, 2008; Szablewicz, 2010). On the one hand, the metaphors may help people understand the symptoms of Internet addiction more easily by analogy to the symptoms of drug addiction. On the other hand, in the Chinese context, metaphors referring to opium or heroin can involve guilt, shame, and even traumatic collective memory, for example about the Opium Wars (Bax, 2016; Golub & Lingley, 2008), which could stigmatize Internet games and online entertainment applications.

Young people, especially adolescents, are portrayed as particularly susceptible to the lure of the Internet, including online chat rooms, interactive games, social media, and cyber literature, and the Internet’s effects on youth are overwhelmingly described as decreased efficiency, reduced work performance, failure in school, juvenile delinquency, social alienation, and psychological disorders (Jiang, 2019). People can easily come across tales of tragedies related to Internet addiction in mass media: family conflicts (Tu & Wang, 2010; Yang, 2002), cybersex and online porn addiction (Yang & Dang, 2003), school dropouts (Zhou, 2004), self-harm or suicidal behaviors (Golub & Lingley, 2008; Xinhua News Agency, 2006), deaths from online gaming marathons (Lei et al., 2007; Watts, 2005), and crimes, including robberies and murders(Tao et al., 2009; Watts, 2005; Xinhua News Agency, 2006).

A breakthrough like the formulation of diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction is a legitimate topic for media interest. Societies often need to publicize health matters, and media can play a crucial role in disseminating information and persuading people to take the necessary action. At the 1996 American Psychological Association convention, Dr. Young’s research paper “Internet Addiction: The Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder” was the first to discuss the subject of Internet addiction and was approved for presentation. In her book, Young (1998b) mentioned that the media soon learned of her study, and the journalists swarmed around her, microphones were thrust in her face, and photographers snapped pictures, turning a professional presentation into an impromptu press conference. Since then, her research has been widely covered by the media, including major articles in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, USA Today, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and so on. She has been widely interviewed about Internet addiction on American, British, Swedish, and Japanese television programs.

A similar experience happened to Dr. Ran Tao, who proposed the Chinese diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction, wrote the first academic book on Internet addiction in Chinese, and set up China’s first Internet addiction clinic at the Military General Hospital in Beijing in 2004. Tao’s treatment center in Beijing has been regarded as the first center specific to Internet addiction in the world, and it has gathered a sufficient sample of patients for proper scientific analysis (Tao et al., 2010). Dr. Tao and the clinic have been covered widely in Chinese and foreign media, which have created both attention and heated controversy.

Crisis and breakthrough make the best kind of story. People may first hear of a new illness from the media. Furthermore, given that health problems affect many people, any development in diagnosis or treatment is indisputably a legitimate topic for media attention. However, the conventions that govern the discourse on scientific research in peer groups are different from those that obtain in wider contexts. Even extensive media coverage can deal with complex issues in only a relatively superficial way, but the media have considerable influence on public perceptions. Thus, mass media have increased public consciousness of Internet addiction as a health risk and as a social problem.

The Prevalence for the Internet Addiction in China

With ever-increasing academic research and widespread expression of public concern, certain groups of Internet users and online activities have been identified as high-risk categories for Internet addiction. The development of the Chinese diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction and multiple investigations focusing on the high-risk categories further showcased the prevalence of Internet addiction in China.

High-Risk Categories

In China, young people, especially adolescents, are described as being obsessed with the Internet (Jiang et al., 2018). As a high-risk group for Internet addiction, adolescents are considered to be innocent, vulnerable, and dependent, and therefore in need of protection from possible harm on the Internet. Growing up as digital natives, young people in urban China have a longer history of Internet use than older generations have. However, the parents of these youth are digital immigrants, and usually they have limited knowledge and guidance regarding their children’s Internet use. Furthermore, Internet addiction could be part of the growing pains or developmental problems of adolescence and young adulthood in the digital era.

The Internet itself is not addictive (Young, 1998b), but specific applications, especially online entertainments with interactive or immersive features, including online games, social media, and smartphone apps, appear to be influential in the development of Internet addiction (Huang, 2014; Jiang, 2019; Jiang & Huang, 2013; Jiang et al., 2013).

As a common activity among young Internet users, online gaming in particular is believed to be one of the triggers of Internet addiction (Jiang, 2019). After becoming immersed in the compelling and socially rich virtual worlds of online games, players usually demonstrate stronger Internet connectedness. Some researchers point out that indulging in online gaming for long periods may gradually make young people neglect their studies and become alienated from real-life relationships (Huang et al., 2010; Jiang, 2019). Thus, online game players became a high-risk category for Internet addiction. In China, widespread expression of public concern and heavy media reportage consistently point out the addictive potential of online gaming (Jiang, 2014b; Jiang & Fung, 2019). Excessive online gaming is found to correlate with the symptoms of addiction, including impaired control, social problems, risk behaviors, and psychological impairments. In China, many young people like playing online games in Internet cafés or on their smartphones, which may lead to more risk behaviors.

By the end of 2020, the population of smartphone users in China totaled 989 million, with mobile Internet users accounting for 99.7% of Internet users in China (CNNIC, 2021a). With the popularity of smartphone use among Chinese Internet users, smartphone use and various software applications (apps) on the mobile Internet became an emerging high-risk category for Internet addiction that has garnered more and more attention. In contrast to previous studies on Internet gaming, which usually identified males as the high-risk group, research on smartphone addiction has indicated that females have become the new high-risk group for mobile Internet addiction (Jiang & Li, 2018).

Diagnostic Criteria for Internet Addiction

Although Internet addiction and problematic Internet use have been reported by Chinese media for years, the first Chinese diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction were released openly in 2008 (Xinhua, 2008). As China’s foremost proponent of the concept of Internet addiction, Dr. Ran Tao, a military psychiatrist who proposed the Chinese diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction, is also the author of the first book systematically examining Internet addiction in Chinese, and he set up China’s first Internet addiction clinic in Beijing in 2004 (Jiang, 2019).

The Chinese diagnostic criteria include four parts: symptoms, severity, course, and exclusions. In the symptoms, eight items are used to diagnose Internet addiction: salience, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, mood alteration, exclusiveness, relapse, hiding, and conflict (Tao et al., 2010). The first four symptoms are essential for Internet addiction diagnosis, along with the severity of impairment of social functions and symptoms lasting for more than 3 months. The criteria also distinguish Internet addiction from Internet infatuation and other psychological problems (Huang et al., 2007; Tao et al., 2010).

Tao’s criteria echo Young’s (1998a) eight-item Diagnostic Questionnaire (DQ) for Internet addiction disorder, which was based on the criteria for pathological gambling in DSM-IV. Drawing on the same criteria used to diagnose pathological gambling, Young (1998b) proposed the following items for the DQ: (a) Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)? (b) Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction? (c) Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use? (d) Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use? (e) Do you stay online longer than originally intended? (f) Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of the Internet? (g) Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet? (h) Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)? Respondents who answer “Yes” to five or more of the eight questions are classified as addicted Internet users (Young, 1998b).

Both Dr. Young and Dr. Tao are pioneers in Internet addiction research and are also ardent supporters of the concept of Internet addiction. They each wrote the first book on Internet addiction in their sociocultural contexts and proposed diagnostic criteria and recovery strategies. Both Young’s DQ and Tao’s diagnostic criteria have identified Internet addiction with a list of eight symptoms. Developed and proposed more than 10 years before Tao’s criteria, Young’s DQ acted as the framework and model for Tao’s criteria, which were also based on the findings from Tao’s own studies (Bax, 2016). Dr. Tao has confirmed that he compared his data with data from American scholars.

The first Chinese criteria have classified Internet addiction as a clinical disorder, although it is not yet officially recognized as a disorder in the United States, its birthplace. In this way, the concept of addiction in the Chinese criteria has adopted its meaning from the American cultural background, not the Chinese one, aiming to classify Internet addiction as a disorder. Even with heavy media coverage, it still took a long time for Internet addiction to be officially regarded as a disorder in China.

Due to much controversy about diagnosis and treatment of Internet addiction, until 2018, when the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11), released on June 18, 2018, by the World Health Organization, included gaming disorder as a kind of mental, behavioral, or neurodevelopmental disorder, the National Health Commission of China officially included Internet addiction and its definition, diagnostic criteria, subtypes, and harms in the Key Information and Interpretation of Chinese Adolescent Health Education 2018 Revision. Recognition of gaming disorder as a diagnosable condition has helped people with the disorder get the treatment and services they need, although currently the ICD-11-based criteria are limited to gaming disorder, with general use of the Internet, social media, or other online applications not included.

The Prevalence of Internet Addiction in China

Internet addiction is regarded as a serious health risk among the young; therefore, examining its prevalence is important. Due to the web of multiple regulatory regimes and overlapping networks of power at different levels, many institutions, associations, and research centers have conducted national investigations and have released multiple reports.

To examine the prevalence of Internet addiction among adolescents in China, three national investigations were conducted by the China Youth Association for Network Development (CYAND), and accordingly three national statistical reports were released in 2005, 2007, and 2009. According to the reports released by CYAND, 13.2% of adolescent Internet users were suffering from Internet addiction in 2005. Among adolescent Internet addicts, males accounted for 7% more than females. The rate of Internet addiction was 17.1% among those age 13 to 17 years and 13.7% among those age 18 to 23 years. Moreover, among middle school students, the rate of Internet addiction was even as high as 23.2%, a very high prevalence. In 2009, the rate of Internet addiction among adolescent Internet users in urban China was 14.1%, with 5.6% more males than females. The CYAND, 2009 Internet Addiction Report also indicated that the rate of Internet addiction was higher in less-developed areas than in more developed urban areas (CYAND, 2010).

The CNNIC, which releases The Statistical Survey Report on Internet Development in China every year, has also included information related to the prevalence of Internet addiction in its official annual report. For example, the largest group of Chinese Internet users was students, with the number of Internet users between 6 and 18 years old in China reaching 183 million by the end of 2020 and with 19.6% of them feeling dependent on the Internet (CNNIC, 2021b).

Focused on Internet usage and dependency, the Central Committee of the Communist Young League released The National Research Report of Juvenile Internet Use three years in a row, in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The reports provided the results of a national investigation of adolescents’ Internet use, Internet dependency, and Internet addiction throughout China.

Since 2010, the Institute of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has released the Blue Book of Adolescents: Chinese Juvenile Internet Use Report annually. This book is helpful for public understanding of the digital living situations of digital natives, including Internet addiction among adolescents.

In recent years, more and more institutions and research centers have focused on the issue of Internet addiction among the young. Therefore, investigation and discussion regarding Internet addiction have become an integral part of research on adolescents. For example, in the Big Data Analysis Report on Internet-related Juvenile Criminal Cases released in June 2018 by the Law and Technology Institute at Renmin University of China, Internet café patronage and Internet addiction were identified as the two main causes of Internet-related juvenile criminal cases. Moreover, in the Research Report on the Risk of Youth Internet Platform Participation released in 2020 by China Youth New Media Association, online gaming was discussed as one of the triggers of Internet addiction among adolescents due to its immersive and interactive experiences, which incur various risks.

Coping with Internet Addiction in China

To cope with the plight of Internet addiction, China has developed various treatment, regulation, prevention, and intervention strategies.

Treatments for Internet Addiction

Together with the development of Internet addiction in China, for more than 20 years, research projects, rehab facilities, welfare services, and self-help programs have spread nationwide. Based on the nationwide investigation conducted by CYAND, more than 300 institutions have offered treatment for Internet addiction, including clinics, special schools, and so on, but only dozens of them have been well developed (CYAND, 2009).

China was among the earliest to set up Internet addiction clinics. However, these institutions were not able to provide standardized or generally acknowledged treatments. According to an investigative report from the Chinese Youth Research Center (CYRC), Internet clinics in China have provided a variety of coping strategies, and family communication has been found to be a key element in Internet addiction treatment (CYRC, 2010). For example, Dr. Tao, who first proposed the Chinese diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction, developed an interdisciplinary “Five-in-One” integrated model, incorporating medicine, psychology, education, social conditioning theory, and social experience related to military training (Bax, 2015, 2016). Although many Internet addiction clinics have emerged in urban China, they are a mixture of good and bad: treatments can be expensive, and therapeutic efficiency varies considerably (CYRC, 2010).

For a long time, until the release of ICD-11, the diagnosis of Internet addiction was based on clinical observation, a counseling interview, or criteria proposed by different researchers. In clinics, Internet addiction was treated as a new disorder, while in some rehab centers or camps, Internet addiction was considered to be adolescents’ deviant behavior or a form of distraction for growing pains (Jiang, 2019).

Recently, multiple intervention strategies for Internet addiction have been applied, including medication, psychological counseling, study coaching, outdoor games, pedagogic activities, physical exercises, and military training (Jiang, 2019). By using various therapeutic measures, institutions aim to foster adolescents’ self-control ability and good behavioral habits, with the aim of solving their Internet addiction problem in the long run. Most institutions have adopted a closed management system (CYAND, 2010; CYRC, 2010).

The Internet addicts treated in institutions are mainly students at the junior high school, high school, and college levels (CYRC, 2010). Some of them are tricked or forced by their parents to enter treatment, and quite few go willingly. The institutions help to prevent and to treat Internet addiction, but many problems remain. The institutions are distinguished from one another by different higher authorities, and their regulation is in disarray. There have been a series of controversial circumstances, including application of electroconvulsive therapy, the death of an adolescent Internet addict in an institution, and so on.

Regulation, Prevention, and Intervention

Public concern about Internet addiction has influenced policymaking, regulations, industry management, and welfare services (Jiang, 2019).

Faced with the issue of Internet addiction among the young, the Chinese government has increasingly recognized that the diffusion of technology cannot be left to market forces and that regulation and intervention are required (Hughes & Wacker, 2003; Qiu, 2004; Sohmen, 2001; Suttmeier, 2005). Government regulation of the Internet has become an integral part of intervention for Internet addiction. In order to protect Internet users, especially the young, the relevant changes that have been made to regulations and laws include the nationwide anti-addiction system, youth mode; the regulation of Internet cafés, the online game industry, and video websites/platforms; and the amendment to the Law on the Protection of Minors.

Since 2007, Internet addiction has been included as an issue in the Law on the Protection of Minors. On June 1, 2021, the revised Law on the Protection of Minors took effect, and for the best interests of the child, a new provision, “Internet Protection,” lays out duties for governments, schools, parents, and digital service providers to protect the young against cyber-based crimes and Internet addiction. In order to protect children on the Internet, the newly revised law stipulates a unified electronic identity authentication system for minors and a gaming curfew.

In China, many young Internet users are inveterate participants in gaming sessions. At one time, Internet cafés in both large cities and remote villages were crowded with young people glued to screens as they engaged in battles or chatting. Many of these young (mostly male) users suffered from Internet addiction (Xinhua, 2008). In response to increasing attention to Internet addiction, the Chinese government has addressed the social concerns and simultaneously has used its influence to shape social values and norms. The government tried to regulate related industries and peoples’ Internet use in various ways. For example, the government banned Internet cafés and game labs within 200 meters of schools; it imposed strict licensing procedures, control of business hours, and restrictions of minors’ entry into Internet cafés; and it mandated installation of the anti-addiction system and anti-fatigue software. As for the Chinese online game industry, for the government applies a number of licensing procedures, and it uses real-name registration, the anti-addiction system, and anti-fatigue software (Jiang & Fung, 2019).

As more new Internet-related entertainments have become popular, the anti-addiction system has been expanded. For example, to protect adolescents from addiction to short-video apps, including TikTok, a pop-up message is required to remind adolescent users to activate “Youth Mode,” which sets restrictions on content, features, and duration of use. The restrictions can stop adolescent users from tipping, livestreaming, topping up, and cashing out and can also include an imposed curfew. Advocates and policymakers in China contend that these new regulations and guidelines, including the anti-addiction system and anti-fatigue software, can empower parents in guiding their children’s Internet use and online behaviors more effectively.

Various welfare services have also been provided for the public to cope with the risk of Internet addiction. Regarding the importance of Internet literacy in the coping strategies (Leung & Lee, 2011), related training, education, and workshops have been offered at schools, community centers, and online to teach young people and their parents more knowledge, techniques, and coping strategies. For example, in 2018, the Ministry of Education issued the Emergency Brief on Education and Guidance for the Prevention of Internet Addiction among Primary and Middle School Students. Parents, school administrators, and health professionals commonly demonstrate their support for this kind of Internet literacy education. In this way, people may pay more attention to the narcotizing dysfunction of Internet use, the dark side of cyberspace, and the obsessive use, misuse, overuse, and even abuse of the Internet.

Review of the Literature

With the development and effects of Internet addiction in China, Internet addiction has become a growing field of research in recent years. The Chinese literature on Internet addiction is interdisciplinary and examines multiple aspects of the issue. Studies on Internet addiction in China have been conducted by scholars from communication studies (e.g., Jiang, 2019; Jiang & Leung, 2015; Liang & Leung, 2018), psychology (e.g., Shek & Yu, 2015; Yu & Shek, 2018), clinical medicine (e.g., Huang et al., 2010; Tao et al., 2010), education (e.g., Chou et al., 2005), and many other disciplines.

Current Internet addiction studies are primarily concerned with the diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction disorder (see Chen & Chou, 1999; Tao et al., 2010), different types of Internet addiction, including gaming addiction (see Chiu et al., 2004; Chou & Ting, 2003), Internet café addiction (Wu & Cheng, 2007), social media addiction (Huang, 2014), smartphone addiction (Jiang & Li, 2018; Leung, 2008), and antecedents of Internet addictive behaviors and characteristics that make an individual more susceptible to becoming an Internet addict (see Chak & Leung, 2004; Ni et al., 2009; Tao et al., 2009; Whang et al., 2003; Yen et al., 2007), as well as treatments and interventions (see Yeh et al., 2008). Most of the existing research has focused on the young, who are regarded as a high-risk group (see Chou, 2001; Chou & Hsiao, 2000; Jiang, 2014a; Jiang et al., 2018; Shek et al., 2008; Tsai & Lin, 2003). However, research on media coverage and public concern (see Jiang, 2019; Jiang & Leung, 2012) and critical analysis of Internet addiction in China (see Bax, 2015; Golub & Lingley, 2008; Szablewicz, 2010) remain limited.

Primary Sources

For those seeking an in-depth and overall understanding of Internet addiction in China, Jiang’s (2019) Internet Addiction among Cyberkids in China: Risk Factors and Intervention Strategies, which includes studies on public concern and media coverage of Internet addiction in contemporary China; clinical assessment of, and risk factors for, Internet addiction in adolescents; parent-reported signs of Internet addiction in Chinese children and adolescents; and coping strategies as well as treatments for Internet addiction, can work as a good collection of primary sources. It is the first book to cover media reportage of Internet addiction in China. Valuable clinical data on Internet-addicted adolescents in China have been retrieved and examined. The book also includes valuable firsthand ethnographic data from Internet-addicted adolescents, parents, and health professionals.

As an in-depth critical examination of the moral panic and treatment models regarding Internet addiction, Bax’s (2015) Youth and Internet Addiction in China provides a critical discussion of Internet addiction in China. Based on extensive original research, including discussions with psychiatrists, parents, and Internet-addicted young people, the book explores the conflicting attitudes that Internet addiction reveals. Bax (2015) has shown that contrasting attitudes lead to battles that are often fierce and violent. On the one hand, young people in China regard Internet use, especially online gaming, as a welcome escape from the dehumanizing pressures of contemporary Chinese life. On the other hand, the parents of these young people insist that working hard for good school grades is the correct way to progress, and they medicalize Internet overuse. The problem of Internet addiction is seen by some parents as so severe that they have sought psychiatric help for their children. However, in his book, Bax (2015) has argued that the greater problem may in fact lie with parents and other authority figures, who misguidedly apply pressure to force young people to conform to the empty values of a modern, dehumanized, consumer-oriented society.

For those who want to know more about specific types of Internet addiction in China, Huang’s (2014) Social Media Generation in Urban China: A Study of Social Media Use and Addiction among Adolescents is a collection of primary sources focusing on social media addiction. This exploratory study proposes the concept of “social media addiction.” The book examines the existence of social media addiction among adolescents in urban China, as well as the disorder’s symptoms, its sociopsychological predictors, the gratifications it confers, and its influence on adolescents’ academic performance and social capital. Based on quantitative questionnaire surveys in main urban Chinese areas, the book has shown that the adolescents addicted to social media experienced four major symptoms—preoccupation, impairment, alleviation of negative emotions, and loss of interest in social activities—which had a significant negative impact on the adolescents’ academic performance and social capital. The addicted adolescents were often self-absorbed, were bored with their usual leisure activities, and were good at using manipulation of social media for social interaction as well as for obtaining social, information, and entertainment gratification.

Further Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM–5 Fact Sheets.
  • Esarey, A., & Kluver, R. (2015). The Internet in China: Cultural, political, and social dimensions (1980s–2000s). Berkshire Publishing Group.
  • Golub, A., & Lingley, K. (2008). “Just like the Qing Empire”: Internet addiction, MMOGs, and moral crisis in contemporary China. Games and Culture, 3, 59–75.
  • Hughes, C. R., & Wacker, G. (Eds.). (2003). China and the Internet: Politics of the digital leap forward. Routledge.
  • Jiang, Q., & Fung, A. (2019). Games with a continuum: Globalization, regionalization and the nation-state in the development of China’s online game industry. Games and Culture, 14, 801–824.
  • Qiu, J. L. (2004). The Internet in China: Technologies of freedom in a statist society. In M. Castells (Ed.), The network society (pp. 99–124). Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Sohmen, P. (2001). Taming the dragon: China’s efforts in regulating the Internet. Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, 1, 17–26.
  • Suttmeier, R. P. (2005). A new technonationalism? China and the development of technical standards. Communications of the ACM, 48, 35–37.
  • Szablewicz, M. (2010). The ill effects of “opium for the spirit”: A critical cultural analysis of China’s Internet addiction moral panic. Chinese Journal of Communication, 3, 453–470.


  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM–5 Fact Sheets.
  • Bax, T. (2015). Youth and Internet addiction in China. Routledge.
  • Bax, T. (2016). “Internet gaming disorder” in China: Biomedical sickness or sociological badness? Games and Culture, 11, 233–255.
  • Chak, K., & Leung, L. (2004). Shyness and locus of control as predictors of Internet addiction and Internet use. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 7(5), 559–570.
  • Chen, S. H., & Chou, C. (1999). Development of Chinese Internet addiction scale in Taiwan [Poster presentation]. American Psychology Association Annual Convention, Boston, United States.
  • China Internet Network Information Center. (2021a). The 47th statistical report on Internet development in China. [in Chinese].
  • China Internet Network Information Center. (2021b). The 2020 research report on Internet use among minors in China. [in Chinese].
  • China Youth Association for Network Development. (2009, October 27). Nationwide investigation of Internet addiction therapeutic institutions has been carried out. [in Chinese].
  • China Youth Association for Network Development. (2010, February 3). Research report on Internet addiction among Chinese adolescents: 2009. [in Chinese].
  • Chinese Youth Research Center. (2010). Investigation research of the current situations of and coping strategies for Internet addiction among adolescents [in Chinese]. Chinese Youth Research, 172(6), 5–29.
  • Chiu, S. I., Lee, J. Z., & Huang, D. H. (2004). Video game addiction in children and teenagers in Taiwan. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 7(5), 571–581.
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