Chinese censors block access to Wikipedia

IDG News Service |  Tech & society, Tech & society

Chinese censors have blocked access to an online encyclopedia called Chinese Wikipedia that was created as a free and open source of information for Chinese Internet users, according to several contributors to the site.

Chinese Wikipedia (http://zh.wikipedia.org) is a Chinese-language offshoot of Wikipedia, an online English-language encyclopedia that is also available in several other languages. Wikipedia is a wiki, a term that is derived from the Hawaiian word for "quick" and used to describe Web sites that can be edited by any reader, including anonymous visitors.

All versions of Wikipedia, including the Chinese-language version, employ a policy that enforces a neutral point of view for all entries and the content is copyrighted under the GNU Free Documentation License, a license for free content developed by the Free Software Foundation.

Chinese Wikipedia, which has not previously been blocked by Chinese censors, had been held up by observers as an example of openness on the Internet in China. In addition, the site, which has had a low profile and a relatively small group of regular contributors, was seen as a gauge of government tolerance for the free flow of information on the Internet in China.

Now Wikipedia has pushed that tolerance to its limit. Access to Chinese Wikipedia was blocked beginning on June 3, Menchi, a regular contributor to Chinese Wikipedia, said in an e-mail interview. (He requested his real name not be used for this story.)

That date is politically significant in China, coming one day before the 15th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown, when the Chinese government used force to clear demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. Chinese officials typically crack down on dissidents and heighten censorship efforts each year in the run up to the anniversary.

Another contributor to Wikipedia was not surprised that the Chinese government moved to block access to the site ahead of the June 4th anniversary, noting that the entry regarding the June 4th crackdown had received a greater amount of attention from contributors in advance of the anniversary.

"When the June anniversary was coming, I found out that more and more people got involved in editing the article about the Tiananmen event, I was quite worried at that time," the Chinese contributor said in an online interview. He too requested that his name not be used in this story.

"I had been worrying that this may happen someday, since Chinese Wikipedia contains a lot of sensitive articles which are still taboo in China," the Chinese contributor said.

Another factor that likely contributed to the Chinese decision to block access to Wikipedia was an IDG News Service story published on May 16 about Chinese Wikipedia that included a description of the site's entry on the June 4th crackdown, Menchi said.

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