Desperate Mothers, Only Sons: The ‘Moral Reformation’ of China’s Internet Addicted Youth

I am writing this blog post from the 2012 World Cyber Games in Kunshan, China. This international competition for professional digital gaming, also known as e-sports, is an interesting setting from which to contemplate Chinese government efforts to draw strict divisions between nationally sanctioned e-sports and “unhealthy” and “addictive” Internet games.  Indeed, during the press …

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“From Addicts to Athletes: Youth Mobilities and the Politics of Digital Gaming in Urban China”

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Marcella Szablewicz.  Marcy received an MA in East Asian Studies from Duke University and a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric, under the advisement of Drs. June Deery and Tamar Gordon, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Communication and Media.  She is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in MIT’s department of Comparative Media Studies.  You can find more of her work online at www.feiyaowan.com.

 1)    Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics.  Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.

“From Addicts to Athletes” departs from a simple premise: Recent statistics have shown that over three hundred million Chinese play Internet games. But while many young people argue that games provide free space in which to achieve necessary release from the pressures of society, the government and media often depict games as a kind of “opium for the spirit” that adversely affects Chinese youth.

Smells Like Opium for the Teen Spirit

Motivated to understand the logic behind these drastically different perspectives, in my research I trace the shifting discourses and practices of digital gaming in urban China, paying particular attention to the various ways that digital games are socially shaped —both how young Chinese describe and remember the importance of games in their social lives and how gaming is portrayed in government and media discourse. Based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning six years, I explore the mechanisms by which different games come to be constructed as either “healthy” or “unhealthy” and the corresponding processes by which the gamers who play them are portrayed as either “addicts” or “athletes.”  Despite belonging to the realm of so-called “free” time, I show that digital games and those who play them do not go unencumbered by political realities.  To the contrary, I contend that such constructions are rooted in larger cultural debates about patriotism and productivity, class and the crafting of the “ideal citizen.”

This notion of the ideal citizen is set against the backdrop of the precarious economic futures faced by youth in contemporary urban China.

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Call for Papers: Drugs and Drink in Asia

Editor’s Note: We’re posting a just-issued call for papers for a conference (“Drugs and Drink in Asia: New Perspectives from History”) to be held at Shanghai University through the David F. Musto Center for Drug Policy Studies.  As one of the conference organizers, I’d like to invite readers to recall Prof. Musto himself.  Doubtless he’d …

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What’s Pashto for “Recovery”?

This weekend, the New York Times treated readers once again to the spectacle of opium addiction in Afghanistan, a country, according to the article’s title, “Trapped in a Narcotic Haze.”

Photo: Mauricio Lima for the New York Times

The article did note in passing that economic forces might have something to do with increased addiction, as men traveling in search of work encounter intravenous drug cultures not (yet) indigenous to Afghanistan.  Aside from this nod to the country’s economic distress, the article was remarkably silent about the way that political economy– say, colonialism, decades of war and occupation, massive displacement of peoples, a ravaged infrastructure, etc.– might factor in to the question, focusing instead on the lurid details of “this particular circle of hell” and the inability of public health officials to get a handle on the growing problem.

A Big Book, but not THE Big Book

Okay, fine: it’s an article in the Sunday paper.  I myself have said that while the political economy of addiction is a crucial part of understanding it, it’s the rare junkie indeed who gets clean by reading Hardt and Negri.  (Points readers whose experiences differ, please do write me!)  If you want a very concise discussion of why opium production is Afghanistan’s leading industry– including acknowledgement of the US government’s pivotal role in creating the situation–  Pierre-Arnoud Chouvy provides it here, in China and Eurasian Forum Quarterly (2006).  If you want a more careful and well-sourced discussion of the public health issue, you can get it from Catherine Todd, Naqibullah Safi, and Steffanie Strathdee in their matter of fact article on  “Drug Use and Harm Reduction in Afghanistan” (2005).

But where should those of us interested in the history of recovery turn? 

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The Points Interview: Diana L. Ahmad

For our eleventh Points Interview, we do something new–take our first visit to opium in historical scholarship.  We’re pleased to do it through an interview with Diana L. Ahmad, whose book The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West (University of Nevada Press) has just appeared in a new paperback edition.  The Opium Debate explains the extent to which the response to smoking-opium/opium smoking influenced the policy world of Chinese exclusion–and does so in a very carefully researched study.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-Diana Ahmad, The Opium Debatestreet) could understand.

When people think of the Chinese in the nineteenth-century American West, they often visualize a man with a long queue wearing traditional clothing working as a cook and housekeeper, like Hop Sing in Bonanza.  Others might think of Chinese launderers in the mining towns or laborers building railroads, such as the Central Pacific.  The thousands of Chinese men who moved to the United States came as sojourners with little intention of remaining in the country. Instead, they hoped to earn enough money to help their families economically, and then return home.  As a result, few Chinese women accompanied the workers to Gam Saan (Gold Mountain or San Francisco).  With the lack of Chinese women available to form families in the West, a few of the men occupied their time in vice activities, such as gambling (games akin to lotteries), Chinese prostitution, or smoking opium.  It must be remembered that FEW of the men smoked opium, but that did not matter to the Anglo-Americans who noticed that the “sporting classes” of whites began to visit the opium dens in Chinatown by the 1870s.  Then children started to go to the dens, and soon the middle class visited them.  Because the mid-to-late nineteenth century middle and elite classes believed in Victorian values, smoking opium threatened their standards and beliefs.  Women needed to remain in the homes and smoking opium attacked the values they held dear, including purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness.

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