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Sunday, 29 April, 2001, 03:18 GMT 04:18 UK
China internet cafe debate hots up
Children at a shopping centre internet point
Schoolchildren surf the web at a Beijing shopping centre
To ban, or not to ban? Internet cafes are becoming an ever more frequent sight on street corners throughout China and are provoking fierce debate, with the government seeking to curb them while intellectuals argue their merits as a source of information.

A Beijing Review report says the number of young people frequenting internet cafes has significantly increased over the past couple of years.

Up to 15% of children in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are now said to be using the cafes.

Chinese children surfing the net at an internet stall
Up to 15% of children in China's larger cities use internet cafes
China announced two weeks ago that no new internet cafes would be approved for three months while the authorities re-registered existing cafes and carried out large-scale checks on their activities.

As part of the crackdown, the authorities in Anshan in the north-east province of Liaoning installed "information purifiers" in more than a third of the city's 240 internet cafes - software denying users access to pornographic web sites.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, companies specialising in information are being encouraged to enter the internet cafe market so as "to weaken the function of internet cafes as entertainment".

In a debate published on the Beijing Review's website, Communist Party officials warn of the dangers of "online heroin", saying access to pornographic sites and "illegal games" in internet cafes pose a threat to the country's younger generation.

Internet cafes scattered around the country are particularly blighted by the 'online poison'.

Beijing Review
The web site comments that "online violence and pornography" are "spreading rampantly".

"So-called internet cafes scattered around the country are particularly blighted by the 'online poison'. Some teenagers are so deeply entrapped by such internet cafes that their minds are severely distorted."

Against this background, some such as scholar Zhang Wei argue that the existence of net cafes has become a necessary part of modern Chinese life.

"Although internet cafes indeed have some negative effects, they should not be banned," he says, recommending instead that they be "cleaned up".

In light of the fact that even in China's larger cities, less than 30% of families own a computer, the cafes have become for many people their only means of access to the net and have "made an undeniable contribution to the popularisation of the internet in China", Zhang says.

Internet cafes are not gaming arcades... the internet has promoted the development of human civilisation

Wu Yan

Journalist Wu Yan for his part says internet cafes are being set up most rapidly in "underdeveloped" regions and suggests they will "help narrow the gap between urban and rural areas".

"The attitude toward internet cafes should not be to simply close them down, but to improve regulation," he says.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

02 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
China cracks down on internet cafes
16 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China fights online onslaught
29 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Can governments control the internet?
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