How to deal with internet addiction – Chinese style

A man smokes while using a computer at an Internet cafe in Taiyuan

“The biggest difference between us and their parents is that their parents want to lock them up. Whereas we don’t” says Dr Tao, the lead psychiatrist in charge of a rehabilitation centre for teenage internet addicts.

“Chairman” Tao then proceeds to lock up Hope, one of the teenage ‘addicts’ for 10 days in solitary confinement.

This excellent documentary by Storyville focuses on the medicalisation and radical ‘treatment’ of the growing problem of internet addiction in China. The teenagers in the bootcamp have been defined as “addicts” as they use the internet for more than 4 hours a day – not for study or work purposes. At one point they describe how they ended up in rehab: one was drugged by his parents and carried in his sleep, another was promised a skiing holiday, only to be dumped in a rehab detention centre on the outskirts of Beijing.

The treatment can last for months or even years and involves instilling discipline and order, whilst obviously avoiding any use of computers. The boys are made to do marching drills, press ups and keep their rooms tidy, whilst the centre offers lectures, individual therapy and family therapy. They also offer brainwashing the teenagers into changing their behaviour. The brainwashing (originally a Chinese term) involves repetition: singing repeated choruses of patriotic army ditties expounding the glory of the nation, the virtues of obedience and the importance of rules in life.

The documentary raises some interesting questions about mental illness and the internet – Do parents fail to fully understand the social elements of living online?  Is there a point at which it becomes unhealthy to remain on the internet? Some of these children are from violent and abusive homes, One of the boys talks about how he tried to jump out of a window after failing a level on a computer game. Another father talks openly about how he threatened his son with a knife to make a point. It is clear in many of these cases that the internet addiction is not the route of the problem, so it does seem a bit extreme to set up a bootcamp that focuses on the one form of release these teenagers have.

The program ends with an alternative solution to the problem: One father hired online virtual ninjas to assassinate his son’s avatar character in an online shoot ’em up in a desperate attempt to get his son to stop playing online games. Unfortunately his son cottoned on to his ruse and beat out the truth from his virtual assailant.

It is a fantastic documentary. Go watch it. now…

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Bigger than Facebook

Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba are about to break records by floating for a whopping $16-20 billion. 

This is bigger than Facebook and sliced bread put together.

Alibaba connects Chinese businesses with overseas companies and also owns Taobao – China’s answer to ebay.

The founder of Alibaba is the enigmatic Jack Ma. Ma started out his career as an English teacher earning $12 a month and is now one of the ten richest people in China. He has his own unique style of leadership and he likes to entertain his employees by dressing in gliitery mohawk outfits, black lipstick whilst singing bad karaoke. 


According to one of his colleagues there is a personality cult centred on Ma that is encouraged by senior management at the company. There is even a hagiographic film documenting his rise Crocodile in the Yangtze. Despite the slightly dull narrator this films offers a fascinating insight into Ma’s meteoric rise and includes footage of the first company meetings and its early aspirations.    

Although he is hailed as China’s answer to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg Ma insists that he knows ‘nothing about technology’ and often offers words of wisdom such as:

‘The internet is like a glass of beer: it tastes best when there are bubbles in it’.

Ma is now such a big cheese that even David Cameron is desperate to get a selfie with him (or vice versa)dc and jackma

Alibaba group has just bought China Vision Media Group – who own the broadcasting rights to the English Premier League in China and run the Beijing Times. This deal has, for the time being, scuppered the mega floatation as their accountancy records are under scrutiny. In order to make sure no one messes with them further they have installed martial arts legend Jet Li as a non executive director.


The “bigger than facebook” float hasn’t happened yet. But watch this space…

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Taking things too chuanr

Position statement: Brushduck opposes the Beijing authorities’ move to ban outdoor grills from the streets of the capital from 1 May 2014


While it is agreed that the rarely reported pollution in Beijing is becoming an issue, we say tackle vehicle and industrial emissions instead – this will also make it nicer when sitting on comically undersized chairs on the side of the road eating yang rou chuanr.

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Book Review – Decoded by Mai Jia

“You are a rat.
You are waiting inside a barn.
But you cannot eat the millet.
Each grain of millet has been daubed with a protective coating to prevent your teeth from gnawing into it.
– That is cryptography”

…and this is a review of the English translation of Mai Jia’s 2005 novel Decoded.  It gets 3 brush duck points out of 5.



Rong Jinzhen is “humanity’s creme de la creme”: a self-taught maths genius, chess master, interpreter of dreams, probably autistic  – and superstar of China’s top-secret cryptography world during the Cultural Revolution era, smashing the globe’s most complex ciphers.  All the more surprising when his toughest challenge comes at the hands of an adversary who is his polar opposite.

The story is pieced together from accounts of various people with whom Rong crossed path, mostly family and colleagues – in fact, the reserved hero himself utters only a handful of lines of dialogue.   This makes it rather hard to share the adulation heaped upon him by the other key players, and even more so their affection (sometimes).   Towards the end the author allows you a nose through one of Rong’s notebooks – but rather than providing insight it feels like a slightly scary and regrettable intrusion.  Perhaps that’s why the author warns against reading it.

I have learnt that ciphers are terrifying – variously the work of the devil, houses above the clouds with millions of false doors and numerous other frightening things guaranteed to send any punishment-hungry genius who takes them on insane.  Decoded is charming and funny at times, with some excellent characters in the early parts, but becomes bleaker and heavier as it progresses.   It’s been described as a thriller, but don’t expect any action – rather an evocative but murky mystery.

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Moon cake

Brush Duck enters the space race, giving a big thumbs up and tip of the space helmet visor to the unmanned Chinese landing module which is expected to touch down today in the Bay of Rainbows, the Moon.  The landing module will deploy the robotic rover and Oriental sex-toy soundalike “Jade Rabbit” which will presumably buzz around a bit collecting soil and then record a twerking video for Youku.


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Nothing Happened in Tiananmen Square Today

Nothing happened in Tiananmen Square at around midday on Monday 28th October 2013.

State sponsored new agencies and numerous other sources were quick to confirm that nothing happened on Monday.

‘Tiananmen Square, is famous for being a square in the middle of Beijing’

The Guardian and other news agencies around the world reported on an incident involving a jeep in which 38 people were injured.


When asked for a response, one senior official quoted an old proverb:  “There is sometimes smoke without fire”

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Playing Chinese gin rummy with Mao

Click here for a really fascinating interview from the BBC World Service’s Witness program with Sidney Rittenberg, an American communist who joined up with the CCP leadership in Yan’an, Shaanxi province, in 1946.

Yan’an is considered the birthplace of the Revolution, as it was the finishing point of the Long March, and the centrepoint for Chinese communism between 1936 and 1948.  Rittenberg describes seeing the CCP top brass wandering freely about the deserted town and meeting for card games and dances.

Mao in Yan'an: "He danced every dance"

Mao in Yan’an: “He generally danced every dance”

Despite being imprisoned in solitary confinement twice by his comrades, for a total of 16 years, including during the declaration of the People’s Republic in October 1949, Rittenberg seems to have fond memories of his time in Yan’an, particularly of Zhou Enlai.  Mao is described as an aloof, hulking figure, but he remembers “he had an amazing sense of humour, he would keep you in stitches the entire time”.

BBC World Service Witness

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