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By Yan

Yan is a resident of the People's Republic of China and an administrator on the Chinese Wikipedia -S

I'm currently in Beijing, finishing a meetup of the Wikimedians of mainland China with over 50 attendees. I'm not writing as the group's official representative, but in some ways I may be fairly typical of an experienced member. As an admin on the Chinese Wikipedia I perform regular maintenance. I've written about China's internet backbones, explaining China's censorship policies and related problems. Other mainland Chinese Wikimedians are working on articles on local histories and monuments – something that desperately needs more contributions.

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.

— The Wikimedia Foundation

Let me break down the WMF's commitment into two.

Every single human being can freely share?

“Freely sharing" means both "reading" and "writing". Free knowledge will never be read by its intended audience if we do not distribute it. We need to take government censorship more seriously and consider how to best react to it.

"Every single human being" includes Chinese mainlanders. Yet the WMF's policies are more responsible for denying access to China than the Chinese government is. One example is the "IP block exempt" user flag. Only with this flag can someone use a proxy (VPN) to access Wikipedia. Since all language versions of Wikipedia are blocked in China, proxies are the only way to read or edit Wikipedia. All mainland Chinese Wikimedians must have this flag, and it has to be added by admins on a case-by-case basis. But the WMF removed local checkuser rights on the Chinese Wikipedia, which has since increased stewards' workloads on Meta, making the "IP block exempt" problem even worse for us.

Barring innocent contributors is definitely not what “every single human being" should mean.

The WMF sued the Turkish government for blocking Wikipedia, but it hasn't done anything about censorship in China. We pay for our own VPNs; we pay for our own meetups; but we've received nothing from the WMF's US$100 million annual budget.

The sum of all knowledge?

There are few mainland China-related articles on Wikipedia. The contributors are roughly equally divided among Hongkongers, Taiwanese, and mainlanders. This means with the same number of editors, mainland contributors cover a geographic area and population dozens of times larger than those of the other two. The upshot is that the articles of many large mainland cities are not as detailed as a town in Taiwan. A city like Beijing, with about the same population as Australia, has only one or two dozen active contributors.

There are double standards on notability. A bus line in Hong Kong can have its own dedicated article, but in the mainland city of Yuhuan, with a population of 400,000, the single active contributor is focusing on local articles and has difficulty meeting notability criteria.

So the WMF's "Imagine a world" statement makes little sense in China. It sounds like a propaganda slogan to me – something like the American dream or the Chinese dream, or the Communist party propaganda I see on the street.


The WMF's advocacy doesn't help. People in communities without good English-language skills are the ones most likely to be forgotten. We encyclopedia-writing nerds don't care about those slogans either. We just want somewhere to contribute real solid content.

What has happened in China contradicts the WMF's slogans. China allows uncensored information to be accessed by the privileged few, instead of the masses. The "privileged few" are mostly scholars, college students, people who received higher education, and politicians making policies. That's why we’re saying: "Wikipedia has been blocked in mainland China" instead of "Wikipedia has been banned in mainland China." There are no laws to explicitly ban Wikipedia and its activities, though the site itself has been blocked. But Wikipedia is well-known by those with higher education, and their views on the site are quite the opposite of how people think of Wikipedia in the West, where most people treat Wikipedia as a valuable source academically, instead of trying to stop Wikipedia from academic uses. Beijing doesn't care if just a few people know about things like the Tiananmen Square protests.

As ordinary mainland contributors, we care more about preserving the present and past for future generations. Motivations for contributing to Wikipedia are different for different editors, but this one is important among mainlanders. When the day China regains access to Wikipedia, we don't want to see there is almost nothing about China when we get there.

International relations

China has had a troubled history with some countries, but we don't care about ancient history. Let's take the current senseless Sino-American trade war. Neither the trade war nor the Communist party’s propaganda make Chinese people hate Americans, though it does make us think that some Americans, especially Donald Trump, are jerks. I don't think there is even a need for increased understanding between Chinese Wikimedians and those from the Western hemisphere, since there is little interference and distrust between us. What genuinely alienates Chinese and Westerners are modern-day political problems, biases developed through media exposure and education (Westerners included), and a post-Cold War residue of ideological disputes. Abandoning such political squabbling and focusing on WMF projects is what we should be doing.


There are 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China, with Han being the largest, at over 90% of the population. Mainland editors have never surveyed ourselves by ethnicity or gender, but based on what I personally know, there are Zhuang, Manchu, and Korean-Chinese editors. Han's percentage is higher than 90%, as many ethnic minority groups live in underdeveloped western parts of China, lacking access to the internet and the awareness required to use Wikipedia.

Political diversity is another question. This is one reason I’m unable to speak for our user group as a whole. We have members who are pro-Beijing and others who are pro-democracy. The whole group doesn't agree on a single political statement, but everybody's fine letting me speak for myself.

Wikimedians of mainland China

An official Wikimedia User Group China (WUGC) was recognized by the Affiliation Committee in 2014 but stopped accepting new members when the Chinese Wikipedia was blocked by China in May 2015. Their public activities since then have been extremely rare.

Unhappy with the situation, another group of mainland Wikimedians, including me, created a new user group in early 2017, naming ourselves "Wikimedians of Mainland China User Group" (WMCUG). The founding members started the Shanghai bi-weekly meetup, the most frequent regular meetup in mainland China ever. Most currently active mainland Chinese Wikimedians are already our members or at least pro-WMCUG.

A law came into effect in China in 2017, barring foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the WMF, from carrying out activities in China. How to establish a formal branch of the WMF in China is a large topic we can deal with later. But at this moment, we are the de-facto user group representing mainland China. Because of the new law, we won't bother getting recognition from the Affiliation Committee for awhile.

For related coverage, see: In focus and Interview

As usual, we welcome polite commentary from our readers in the section below. Yan has requested direct questions to him from readers be set aside at the top of the comments section, with the understanding that he may not be able to respond within 24 hours for technical reasons.

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Yet the WMF's policies are more responsible for denying access to China than the Chinese government is. One example is the "IP block exempt" user flag. Only with this flag can someone use a proxy (VPN) to access Wikipedia. Since all language versions of Wikipedia are blocked in China, proxies are the only way to read or edit Wikipedia. All mainland Chinese Wikimedians must have this flag, and it has to be added by admins on a case-by-case basis. But the WMF removed local checkuser rights on the Chinese Wikipedia, which has since increased stewards' workloads on Meta, making the "IP block exempt" problem even worse for us.

It's rare for me to defend the WMF, but let me just point out how illogical this statement is. Who denied access to all language versions of Wikipedia in China? The Chinese government, not the WMF. If Wikipedia were not blocked in China, why would there be a need for Chinese editors to use proxies or VPNs in order to access or edit Wikipedia? feminist (talk) 17:01, 31 October 2019 (UTC)[reply]

I agree with Yan on this. Unless the WMF is openly trying to challenge the Chinese gvt and form a political party inside China and try to ″overthrow″ the current commie rule, it should pragmatically adapt to the situation. The fact is that the way the internet in China is run is a big political decision and the WMF has *very* little, or better said, **any** say over that topic. That decision is, and will be, taken elsewhere. So playing blame games makes no sense. On the other hand, if the WMF wants to keep it's feet to the fire and deliver on the slogan under which Wikipedia was created, and as (wiki)editors we all want that, then it should adapt. Be pragmatic. Listen to Yan and the advice of the mainland community how to improve the projects' cause under the given circumstances. If it doesn't, the ultimate result will be the exclusion of 1/5 of the entire world population from Wikipedia/free content/knowledge. And that's for the birds. --Ivan VA (talk) 17:43, 31 October 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Ivan VA: I hate speaking on this matter, but such removal of CU rights gets its roots from actions from pro-WMCUG members/WMCUG members themselves (Read the August view written by me and some other members within the community). And more sarcastically, the whole removal of local checkuser rights came to effect when he, Techyan, applied for Checkusership. Yet I was supportive of him at his application for Adminship. The main reason for me to openly oppose his adminship came after himself not explaining controversial actions multiple times and stayed offline for a few months without explaining the reason of offline right after he failed his application for checkusership. This is when WMCUG started to become more hostile against me.
And until this moment I have not counted historical offensiveness by them against the recognized (but seems to lack on-time reports recently) User Group in China, the Taiwan Affiliate, and the HK User Group off-site. No one force one to do so but explaining the democratic process within the movement seems to fail to a group of people lead by nationalists and hostility against others engraved in their roots. Yes, it is purely bad people driving out the good ones, much like the Croatian Wikipedia at its current state. 100% fancy politics. Also, the division of the Mainland Community stems from the same Shanghai bi-weekly meetup that the view is talking about.--1233 ( T / C 07:53, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@1233: Didn't know that there is (much) more to the story. I can relate to the croatian wiki comparison if that is really the case with the mainland community. --Ivan VA (talk) 15:46, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
I've never known the WMF to fund any meetups anywhere - leastways none that I have been to. They won't hand out any money to the communities if they can avoid it. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 06:45, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Kudpung: They do. Every local Wikimedia branch sends annually financial plans to the (global) Wikimedia etc. My local branch (Serbia) has a few full-time employees and all sorts of other stuff. --Ivan VA (talk) 15:46, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Ivan_VA, so to what extent do you defray the attendees' costs? Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 16:35, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Kudpung: The WMF does fund meet-ups and topic-specific conferences, for example the Wikipedia for Peace events and the upcoming LGBT user group conference in Austria. Kaldari (talk) 16:11, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Kaldari: - how many WMF employees will be attending those events? Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 16:18, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
I honestly don't know, but probably very few since none of them are happening in the US. Kaldari (talk) 16:37, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Kudpung: When it comes to events, i think they pay for the train/bus tickets and fuel bills for the wikipedians who come to the meeting point (usually it's Belgrade, coz that's the branches' headquarters), and ofc the programme of the event itself (food and stuff, idk.). Perhaps also for the hotel bill for the people who stay for the night (and are not from Belgrade). But there have also been conferences in the countryside lasting for a few days..all cost covered. As an example, a few weeks ago there was a big Conference of wikimedians form Central and Eastern Europe in Belgrade. U can look after it in the galleries here. So, Wikimedia really does support meetings and conferences financially. If u're just wondering about that specific branch of founded activities (coz, as i sad, there are much more). --Ivan VA (talk) 17:33, 1 November 2019 (UTC)[reply]


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