Max Ma, a 24-year-old engineer, is determined to spend as much time playing computer games as possible at local Internet cafes with his friends before November 15, the date when playing games in Net bars will become illegal, according to a regulation recently released by China's State Council.
"I'm furious with the new rules, there will be no fun," said Ma.
The new regulation, which was published last Friday, will not only affect game players like Ma, but also cafe owners and minors.
The regulation bars traditional computer games - although it will allow cafe patrons to play online games - prohibits children under the age of 18 from entering Internet cafes and only allows cafes to operate from 8 a.m. to midnight.
In the past, children were not allowed in Internet cafes during school days, but were allowed during weekends and national holidays.
The new rules are part of the central government's staunch attempts to improve its administration on Internet cafes following a deadly fire in Beijing last June that killed 25 people, mainly students.
Two minors started the blaze at an illegal Internet cafe late at night on June 16. Students in the cafe were unable to escape as its owner had locked the doors.
Following the fire, the government launched a nationwide inspection of Internet cafes and stopped approving licenses for new cafes. Currently, only about 30 Internet cafes are approved for operation in Beijing.
Teenagers make up a large portion of the customers at local cafes, where they spend much of their time playing computer games.
"The new regulation will affect our business, but we can afford that," said Yang Hua, assistant to the general manager of Shanghai Eastday Bar Chain Administration Co. Ltd. Eastday Bar runs 238 franchised Internet cafes in Shanghai, about one-fifth of the city's total.
"Still many people are calling us, wishing to join our chain," said Yang. "This means the new regulation will draw rational investors to the industry, while those who want to make quick money will be driven out."
Not surprisingly, the regulation has drawn some criticism.
"I disagree with the decision of keeping children away from Internet cafes, because going to these places is a part of life in the information era," said Huang Hui, director of the center of Internet studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
"Many kids go there because they are not very skillful with computers and need peer help. Also not every child has a computer at home," Huang
According to the new regulation, any cafe caught serving minors on three occasions will lose its operating license.
(eastday.com October 16, 2002)