China has banned the use of shock therapy to treat internet addiction after its use at one hospital sparked nationwide controversy.
The hospital drew wide media coverage in recent months after internet users claiming to have received the treatment wrote in blogs and forums about being tied down and subjected to shocks for 30 minutes at a time.
A statement on the Chinese health ministry's website said the practice had no medical foundation and forbid its clinical use. The order banned the practice nationwide but specifically mentioned the notorious hospital in eastern Shandong province.
Calls to the Shandong hospital went unanswered this morning, but a hospital spokeswoman last week said "sensationalised" media reports had already led it to cease the shock treatment. The shocks were meant to cause subjects to associate a negative result with internet use, according to the hospital. Subjects were forced to admit to faults while receiving the shocks, some internet user accounts said.
Government-funded treatment centres for internet addiction have sprouted up around China in recent years, though the health ministry has not officially labelled it a diagnosable condition. Many children are tricked by parents into going to the centres, which often deliver a mix of military boot camp and therapy sessions.
Staff at the treatment centres blame hugely popular online games like World of Warcraft for getting most Chinese teens hooked on the web.
Some Chinese medical experts still believe shock treatment for internet addiction does not harm children, but the majority disavow it, said Tao Ran, the founder of a Beijing treatment centre web-addicted teens, during a recent interview. Experts meeting at the health ministry last month signed a document recommending its ban, he said.
Internet users celebrated the move in chat forums.
"This news should truly make people happy," one user wrote in a forum run by local search engine Baidu. "After all, this kind of thing is inhuman cruelty."