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Internet: Bliss and Pain to Chinese

Xinhua, 28 June 2002

NANNING, June 28 (Xinhua) -- A recent fire in Beijing's Lanjisu cyber cafe that claimed 24 lives has focused attention nationwide on the country's burgeoning cyber cafes.

China plugged itself into the Internet in 1994. With the number of users mushrooming from 8.9 million two years ago to 35 million now, the country's slightly sluggish pace of life is speeding up.

Young people are getting used to receiving education online, dates online, shopping online and playing games online.

The Internet makes it possible for ordinary people to take part in government decisions and law making. For example, when the tenth five-year plan for national economic and social development was being drafted, over 10,000 suggestions from ordinary people were sent to websites opened by the central government, of which 300 were taken up by China's State Planning Commission.

Both consumers and dealers have been trying E-commerce, trading items like computers, household commodities, books, videos and audio products. According to a latest survey, E-commerce volume will jump to 3.2 billion US dollars by 2004.

The Internet is also helping people find jobs in China. About 35 percent of job seekers found employment online.

Some Chinese farmers sell their products and learn about the world through the Internet, which helps them overcome such disadvantages as geographic isolation.

In the country once famous for its special greeting Have you had your meal?, nowadays more people may address each other with Have you surfed on the net?

However the net has ensnared many young people especially students who are apt to get lost in the virtual community. Mishaps reported at cyber cafes include fires, the sudden death of middle- school students from fatigue and students addicted to the Internet getting poor marks or even dropping out of school.

According to statistics from colleges in east China's Jiangsu Province, about 80 percent of dropouts are Internet addicts.

Some students just chat or play games online without using the net's other functions. The Internet is a kind of electronic encyclopedia, but only those with enough experience and ability can handle it, according to Xu Wenbo, head of the national Internet popularization project.

The Internet with its combination of good and bad, may harm young people. Liu Xiaolin, a psychiatrist said, cyberspace could be a trap in children's development but most problems were attributed to poor management.

Wang Yuesheng, manager of the biggest chain of cyber cafes in Beijing, says the side effects of cyber cafes are obvious. However we shouldn't ban them just like people shouldn't stop eating because food can choke them.

Since June 16 when the fire broke out in the Lanjisu cyber cafe, all cyber cafes have been suspended in Beijing and cafes nationwide are facing tough restrictions.

Computer use has risen sharply in Chinese families in recent years. In Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, 40 percent of families own computers.

However some computer owners still prefer cyber cafes. A regular cyber cafe customer said it was cheaper to surf in cafes than at home. It also felt good surfing in a cyber cafe, just like in a cinema, bringing a feeling of merging into a crowd.