SHANGHAI, AFP

Mainland Chinese police are to shut down more than half of Shanghai’s Internet cafes to raise the moral tone of the city’s youth and to prevent adults playing corrupting computer games, state media said Wednesday.

The move heralds a national inspection of Internet cafes which will begin next month after the campaign in the eastern city of Shanghai draws to a close on September 29, the Shanghai Daily said.

Officials have suspended many cafes which illegally allow under-18-years-old to enter without parent or teacher supervision, or which permit adults to play the popular computer games Quake or Diablo II.

“Playing games is a primitive stage of computer use. We don’t want to encourage this,” Ye Hui, a local IT Industry Administration Division official, told the paper.

“We think income from the Web surfing business should be the backbone of net bars’ revenues,” Ye added.

The shutting of some 525 of the city’s 1,000 Internet cafes showcases the government’s struggle to speed up the growth of the new economy while containing the social and political changes the Internet is ushering into China.

Internet cafes have been a hotbed of dissident activity and the government has been using a heavier hand to control Internet usage in recent months.

“Since August they have been exercising greater control of the Internet and taking measures to crack down on dissent,” Frank Lu, director of the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, told AFP.

China arrested a high school teacher Jiang Shihua in August for posting articles critical of the communist authorities on the Internet from an Internet cafe in Nanchong.

In the same month, the authorities shut down what was billed as the country’s first pro-democracy website, while a website founder from Sichuan was arrested in June for posting information on the web about the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

According to China’s laws, operators of Internet bars must install a “software manager” which can tell the government who is using the computers and for what purpose,.

Customers must also show identity cards when using Internet cafes so they can be tracked down if they break the rules.

However, with the growth of the Internet moving at breakneck speed authorities are struggling to keep pace with its development.

Internet usage in China has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year, rising to 16.9 million users in August.