BEIJING: Li Zhanguo's two children, aged eight and four, don't have their own smartphones, but like millions of other Chinese children, they are no strangers to online gaming.
"If my children get their hands on our mobile phones or an iPad, and if we don't closely monitor their screen time, they can play online games for as long as three to four hours each time," he said.
Like many other parents, Li is happy with new restrictions imposed on online game companies that took effect early this month. They limit children to just three hours weekly of online games time - an hour between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday most weeks.
The restrictions are a tightening of rules set in 2019 that banned children from gaming overnight and limited them to 90 minutes game time most weekdays.
The 90-minute restrictions, however, did not allay authorities' concerns over addiction to online gaming.
Experts say it's unclear if such policies can help prevent addiction to online games, since children might just get engrossed in social media. Ultimately, it's up to parents to nurture good habits and set screen time limits.
The new rules are part of a campaign to prevent kids from spending too much time on entertainment the communist authorities consider unhealthy. That also includes what officials call the "irrational fan culture" of worshipping celebrities.
The restrictions reflect growing concern over gaming addiction among children. One state media outlet has called online games "spiritual opium," in an allusion to past eras when addiction to the drug was widespread in China.
"Adolescents are the future of the motherland, and protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the vital interests of masses, and in cultivating newcomers in the era of national rejuvenation," the Press and Publications Administration said in a statement issued along with the new rules, alluding to a campaign by Chinese President Xi Jinping to cultivate a healthier society for a more powerful China.
Government reports estimated in 2018 that one in 10 Chinese minors were addicted to the internet. Centers have sprung up to diagnose and treat such problems among children.
The responsibility of ensuring that children play only three hours a day falls largely on Chinese gaming companies like NetEase and Tencent, whose wildly popular Honor of Kings mobile game is played by tens of millions across the country.