China revisited

Access issues in mainland China revisited by media

Although no change in the situation has been reported, the blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China has become the subject of renewed attention. The subject's timeliness having increased in the context of other news stories, the predicament was the focus of an extensive story published by The Washington Post on Monday.

Following the recent news that Google is acquiescing in the government's censorship requirements, controls over internet content in mainland People's Republic of China have become a frequent topic in the media. Reports about Google's start of a search engine frequently mentioned Wikipedia as one of the sites that was blocked. Amid vocal criticism of this and similar decisions at other tech companies to cooperate with the PRC's efforts, members of the U.S. Congress have also expressed concern and called for hearings. A certain irony might be seen here, given that some have drawn a connection between the PRC's online censorship and the recent furor over Wikipedia edits by congressional staffers.

With this context, a new press report about Wikipedia access in mainland China has appeared, dealing with the block first imposed last October (see archived stories). This article, published 20 February, was credited to Philip P. Pan of the Washington Post Foreign Service. Andrew Lih, commenting on it in a blog post on the Center for Citizen Media website, highlighted the significance of this issue in Asia because "for most other languages, there is no general knowledge encyclopedia that is freely available". Accompanying the story, the Post published translations of two letters written last October by Wikipedia editors Shi Zhao and Cui Wei, appealing for the block to be lifted.

In the course of his story, Pan covered a number of important aspects in the development of the Chinese Wikipedia. This included efforts to keep the project from fragmenting over various cultural and political issues. For example, the implementation of a software conversion between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese characters was discussed.

One anecdote involved a user who raised concerns about "China-centrism" over whether, for example, the Second Sino-Japanese War article should be called that instead of the "War of Resistance against Japan", even though the latter is the name by which most Chinese would know this conflict. As Pan noted, the debate reflected a larger tension, one that frequently crops up in political naming disputes on any Wikipedia, between the practice of favoring common names and the neutral point of view policy.

Not surprisingly, the article on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, known on the Chinese Wikipedia as the "June 4 Incident", was also analyzed at length. The story covered the efforts to find a balance there between PRC perspectives of these events and those in the Western world, an ongoing process that included a major overhaul by longtime editor Sheng Jiong.

With little to report in the way of immediate news, the story concluded with a summary of the current situation: "The number of people using the Chinese Wikipedia site has dropped, but devoted users are finding ways to access it." It noted that most registered users on the Chinese Wikipedia are from the mainland. Activity continues despite the block, partly by use of proxy servers, but most would undoubtedly like to see the block lifted.

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