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China’s most notorious internet detox camp finally shuts its doors

Earlier this week, rumors started swirling that the Internet Addiction Treatment Center in Linyi, Shandong Province, which was once the most notorious internet detox camp in China, had finally closed its doors. The shutdown has now been confirmed by multiple sources, including several newspapers and a former patient.

The Beijing News reports (in Chinese) that the entrance gates to the facility were open on February 21, but a space that used to be an exercise ground for physical training — which was endorsed by the camp as a method to treat internet addiction — has been transformed into a parking lot. When contacted by the newspaper, the local public health committee said that the center had halted its operations since 2016.

Weibo user @未消逝的青春2015, author of the viral article “My real experience at the Linyi Internet Addiction Treatment Center” (in Chinese), paid a visit to the center’s location on Thursday and confirmed its closure. According to him, while the Fourth People’s Hospital of Linyi, which accommodated the center before, is still open, clinic rooms previously owned by the camp have all been remodeled for new purposes. Meanwhile, doctors, nurses, and other staff members at the facility have been relocated to other positions at the hospital.

However, @未消逝的青春2015 noted that in his talks with some medical and security staff, they all denied that there was a digital detox camp at the hospital. Furthermore, Yang Yongxin, the facility’s former deputy head and an extreme advocate of electroshock therapy, is still seeing patients as a clinical psychiatrist.

Established in 2009, the center was infamous for its abusive treatments that included torture and military-style discipline. But despite widespread criticism and condemnation, it managed to receive patients, who were mostly teenagers sent by their parents, at least until 2016, when local officials publicly announced its shutdown. However, last year, the center found itself in trouble after the release of a video in which a boy can be heard screaming his mother’s name in one of its treatment rooms. While the internet information office in Linyi said that the child was not a patient of the center, the clip led many people to believe that the digital detox camp was still secretly operational.

Now it seems like the center has finally shut its doors, but there are many lingering questions. In a commentary (in Chinese) published by the Beijing News today, author Guo Hua 国华 argues that Yang should face criminal charges for the mental and physical damage he inflicted on his patients. In a Weibo post, @未消逝的青春2015 also warned that the demand for internet detox camps hasn’t declined — many desperate parents are still seeking similar facilities to send their children to after the Linyi center’s closure. “It’s hard to completely eradicate such camps. There’s a long way ahead of us,” he wrote (in Chinese).

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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