Shock over abusive methods used at Internet addiction center

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/1 17:53:39

Male students from Yuzhang Shuyuan practice martial arts on December 8, 2013. The academy, established in 2013, gathered 60 students from Jiangsu and Fujian provinces and Shanghai aged from 9 to over 20 to study traditional Chinese classics and art. In 2014, the school became a center for rehabilitating delinquent teenagers. Photo: IC


"I was wearing my pajamas when I was 'brought into' this 'concentration camp', and those pajamas were my most decent clothes during my stay there," said Han (pseudonym).

Han is one of the students who "suffered from maltreatment" in Yuzhang Shuyuan, an Internet addiction treatment institute in Nanchang, East China's Jiangxi Province.

"They just came to get me in my bedroom while I was in my pajamas. And then I was forced to change into their uniform, which is really poor quality, and that's when my nightmare began," said Han.

The institute has come under the spotlight in recent days after netizens on Zhihu, China's Quora-like knowledge-sharing site, accused it of physically abusing its students.

According to many former Internet addicts approached by the Global Times, newcomers were locked into a "little black room" for seven days and given nothing but a blanket and a pot for their toilet. "I was being watched all the time, even when I was changing my underwear," said former student Xuan, who was put into this institute for six months when she was just 16 years old.

"They used a 'longbian' (finger sized steel bar) to beat us, which left marks on our body. Some were even beaten until they bled, or they locked us into the 'little black room' again until we obeyed them," she added.

The institute also forbids students from bringing in objects that could be used for self-injury or suicide, such as glasses, belt and shoes, said another student surnamed Liu. "Once they gave us pens, but then stopped after someone used one to hurt themselves," he said.

Many students told the Global Times that the institute gave them basic cultural classes every day, but forced them to do physical chores most of the time, such as carrying cement. If anyone refused, they were physically abused.


Held to account

After a great deal of social media exposure, the local government of Nanchang began to investigate the institute, and announced on Monday evening that physical abuse did take place there.

The government vowed to penalize the institute and hold the relevant people accountable.

The Global Times asked to interview Wu Junbao, head of this institute, but he failed to respond as of press time.

Wu had earlier said on his WeChat that Yuzhang would be open to the public on November 5, but this was cancelled because "there were some emotional opinions."

He said the school will schedule one day per month for the public to supervise proceedings.

The institute's website was taken down when the Global Times reporter checked it on Tuesday, but its WeChat account said that the institute aims to help people with a "puberty crisis to live a bright life" through psychological training and education.

According to a government notice, the institute was established in 2013 and was in charge of "converting delinquent teenagers" in 2014.

According to the students, an 18-month stay at the institute costs 60,000 yuan ($9,050), and "if you come again, you will get a discount," said one student.


Traumatized

Yuzhang is not the only institute to have sparked controversy in recent years for "physically abusing its students."

Another Internet addiction treatment center in East China's Shandong Province notorious for its use of electroconvulsive therapy also raised public concerns in recent years after media exposure.

Many patients traumatized by the center's methods filed a lawsuit against the center and Yang Yongxin, its dean.

As private educational institutions, such "schools" should be responsible for protecting teenagers' rights, including their rights to life, health and personal dignity, Zhang Xinnian, a Beijing-based lawyer, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Zhang said that if the students' allegations were confirmed, Yuzhang Shuyuan's actions not only constitute an administrative violation, but could even be regarded as a crime.

He added that if teenagers misbehave, then the responsibility must lie with the parents, as "parents, school and society are all in charge of educating teenagers," said Zhang.

Smile, one student who stayed in Yuzhang Shuyuan, said that it wasn't the physical abuse that hurt him most. "I was devastated when I told my father I needed help and he turned me in," he said.

"I showed a picture of the bruises on my body to my parents, but they said they did not regret it because they saw that I had already become a better person. But I'm not, I'm just scared," said Smile.

"I really regret sending my child to a place like this without further investigating it. I just fell for their advertisement," said Zhu, the mother of a Yuzhang Shuyuan student, and called for all similar institutes to be shut down.


Newspaper headline: Treatment or Trauma?


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