Xi’s anti-screen campaign will reshape family time

The latest curbs are strict. Minors under 18 years old are only allowed one hour of game time on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on public holidays

  
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 10, 2021.

Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 10, 2021.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

HONG KONG - President Xi Jinping wants to reshape Chinese family time at the private sector’s expense. New rules restrict kids to three hours of video games a week to combat smartphone addiction. The financial hit looks manageable for gaming giants like Tencent. But the president wants to drag children away from screens into healthier activities, which will require harsher measures.

The latest curbs are strict. Minors under 18 years old are only allowed one hour of game time on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on public holidays. The previous rule allowed them to play an hour and a half on any day, and three hours on holidays. Investors in Hong Kong promptly knocked off some $20 billion from Tencent's market value, roughly 4%, on the news. The sell-off extended to rivals NetEase and Bilibili.

Tencent's smash hit "Honour of Kings" is so popular that it has been singled out by state media in a recent column lambasting video-games as "spiritual opium". Still, the $575 billion company insists that its systems for verifying identity and limiting game time are adequate. The latest curbs shouldn’t hit the bottom line too hard. In the three months to June, those under 16 accounted for just 2.6% of its domestic gaming revenue.

Official distaste for video-games is aggravated by worries about the country's myopia epidemic, a combined side-effect of constant cramming plus screen glare. An estimated 81% of high school students are short-sighted, according to government figures cited by state media in June; Xi is officially concerned, as is the military. The government has already banned for-profit tutoring and is pushing to reduce homework loads. To prevent children from simply shifting to other forms of on-screen entertainment, more online restrictions are likely. Officials are also preparing to reverse decades of systemic under-investment in physical fitness infrastructure like public sports facilities and parks.

Parents will feel the change. Workaholics will find it harder to foist off children on tutors or use addictive games and apps as de-facto babysitters, but then the government is trying to reduce overtime too. Over the longer term, this could be healthy for Chinese families, but not so much for businesses.

CONTEXT NEWS

- China's National Press and Publication Administration on Aug. 30 published new rules that allow those under 18 years old to play video games for up to one hour a day, between 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They can also play for an hour, at the same time, on public holidays.

- "Teenagers are the future of our motherland," official news service Xinhua quoted an unnamed NPPA spokesperson as saying. "Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the people's vital interests, and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation."

- Shares of Tencent were down 3.4% to HK$449.80 during mid-morning trading on Aug. 31.

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

(Editing by Pete Sweeney and Katrina Hamlin) ((For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on MAK/ SIGN UP FOR BREAKINGVIEWS EMAIL ALERTS http://bit.ly/BVsubscribe | robyn.mak@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: robyn.mak.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))


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