Electroshock Therapy for Internet Addiction-A Living Demon at Large

The mysterious screaming that came out of “Room 13” at the Linyi Mental Hospital has recently become a concerning matter on Chinese social media.

Weibo user “IADSER” discovered and posted the video recording of agonizing screams coming out from the notorious Internet Addiction Treatment Center. The center was shut down by the Chinese health officials back in 2016.

Despite the institution being closed down for two years, the shocking video made people believe that such treatment methods were coming back. Authorities took down the videos, but they could not make people forget what they had seen. The treatment center used “electroshock therapy” in an effort to make the so-called patients, mainly young internet addicts, overcome their vices.

electroshock therapy from A Clockwork Orange

According to South China Morning Post, China is the only country in the world that lists Internet addiction as a disorder. Other countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia have recognized Internet addiction as a potential health problem, but never officially classified it as an illness. But regardless of how countries view addiction, it is never acceptable to subject patients, many of whom are teenagers and students, to electric shocks. The electroshock treatments proposed by the controversial doctor Yang Yongxin cannot in anyway be considered an acceptable treatment method. Rather, it is a form of torture endorsed by ignorant parents that resulted in the physical and psychological suffering of hundreds of teenage patients.

Yang Yongxin, also known as Uncle Yang, became a controversial figure back in 2008. Before setting up the center, he worked as a psychiatrist treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression for over 20 years. A China Central Television documentary was aired praising Yang’s contributions to solving Internet addiction problems. However, Yang’s treatments quickly received backlash for its cruelty and inhumane methods.

Yang Yongxin at the Internet Addiction Treatment Center (source: ifeng)

Treatment program, or concentration camp?

Yang’s concentration camp style treatments triggered harsh criticism. Chinese media ifeng.com compared the atrocity to the ‘domestication of animals’. It is a form of brainwashing to force patients to obey and it contradicts ethics and human rights. In Yang Yongxin’s rehabilitation program, students were required to fully adhere to Yang’s authority. Any form of disobedience would result in severe repercussions, such as more electric shocks.

a boy is being treated with electroshock therapy

Numerous media reports have shown the dark side of Yang’s treatment methods. Former patients trapped in the program call the whole thing a ‘concentration camp’.’ The program adopts strict organization hierarchy, ranking from the director of the addiction elimination center all the way down to every parent and patient involved. In addition to locking up the students, parents were also required to stay on the premises to facilitate the treatment process.

Patients would have all their personal belongings confiscated upon entering the center, and would have to learn the basic rules of the facility as well as what is considered appropriate conduct. They had no connection to the outside world, not to mention the Internet. The only website that they could visit was the anti-Internet addiction forum created by Yang Yongxin himself.

Everything the patients did was closely scrutinized. There were as many as 86 various forms of misconduct that could result in punishment and more electric shocks.

In addition to these strict regulations, some of the rules were commonly seen as excessively strict to the point where they made absolutely no sense. ‘Not talking to one’s parent’ was an act that could result in electric shocks, as was eating chocolate, sitting on Uncle Yang’s chair without permission, and locking the door when using the bathroom. These absurd policies turned patients into lethargic beings that would do anything to please Uncle Yang to avoid electric shocks or other forms of punishment.

Even after the patients had left the facility, the control and manipulation did not stop . A former patient posted articles on Weibo condemning Yang Yongxin and the inhumane acts that took place in the facility. He was instantly harassed and threatened by parents supporting the treatment programs. His girlfriend’s address and phone number were leaked, and his mother started to consider sending him back to the facility for more treatments. Many former patients have yet to speak up against Yang’s wrongdoings and ghastly treatments due to fear of the repercussions and potentially being sent back.

Ignorant Parents and Huge Profits Backing up Yang’s Vision

As of today, Yang Yongxin has not faced any criminal charges. And ignorant parents still supporting Yang’s radical and vile treatments is a sickening reality.

Interviewed by Chinese media China Youth, some parents showed blind support to Yang Yongxin’s treatment by stating that their kids performed better and were more well-behaved after these treatments. Their kids started to show respect to their parents and would even kneel and bow down to the parents. These parents also showed negative attitudes towards journalists and reporters investigating the program and called media reports ‘fake and fabricated’.

In a CCTV interview from 2014, parents interviewed insisted that the programs had had positive impacts on their children. When the CCTV reporter asked one of the parents if he knew about the side effects of the medical instruments used in the treatment, he said, “we are not experts so we don’t want to know about that. We just believe it is a standard hospital.”

ignorant parents

It is evident in the video that these parents come from a background of poor education, with a deep-rooted power politics mentality that affects their family dynamic.

In addition, the substantial economic growth the treatment center provided to the community, made local authorities reluctant to take action against the business. The facility charged more than 30,000 RMB for the ‘treatment’. Yang’s Internet addiction treatment program also received positive feedback from Linyi local health officials. Local authorities commanded the programs for having a minimum of 90% success rate.

It seems like there was little that people could do about the atrocities: The parents were willingly sending their kids to the facility for treatment. Few victims dared to speak up against him or the institution. Videos and reports would be labeled fake and fabricated. Indeed, the status quo was working in Yang’s favor. With no one actively trying to impede his business, Yang could continue his job without facing any retribution at all. The demon is still at large.

While electric shock treatments were suspended by health authorities in 2016, the fear will never go away. Not only for the kids who suffered in the camp, but also for those who witnessed these gruesome acts through videos, articles or other forms of media coverage recording the unpleasant events that happened on a daily basis.