China celebrates 10 years of being connected to the Internet

Chinese Internet users work to make knowledge free

An informal group of Chinese volunteers is working to build an online encyclopedia called Chinese Wikipedia to create a free source of information for Chinese Internet users.

Chinese Wikipedia (http://zh.wikipedia.org) is a Chinese-language offshoot of Wikipedia, an online English-language encyclopedia that is also available in a host of 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.

Work on Wikipedia started in early 2001 and the project now has more than 6,000 active contributors working on 600,000 entries in 50 languages, according to the Wikipedia Web site, which noted the English version (http://en.wikipedia.org) offers more than 260,000 entries. All of the content on Wikipedia is copyrighted under the GNU Free Documentation License, a license for free content developed by the Free Software Foundation.

By any measure of common sense, Wikipedia and Chinese Wikipedia shouldn't work. The wiki format allows any visitor to the Chinese Wikipedia Web site, or that of its English-language cousin, to modify any of the pages in the encyclopedia by adding, changing or deleting information.

In theory, an Internet vandal could come to the site and easily deface or delete entries to the encyclopedia, wasting the efforts of numerous volunteers and rendering Chinese Wikipedia unusable. But wikis are essentially online databases of information and each modification is stored in the database, allowing information to be restored to the Web site if a page is deleted or defaced.

"The instantaneous editability surely is an attractive quality that will impact the future of Chinese cyberspace culture," said Menchi, a regular contributor to Chinese Wikipedia who requested his real name not be used for this story, in an e-mail interview.

Menchi, who was born in Taiwan, said the majority of the 100 regular contributors to Chinese Wikipedia are from Mainland China. As a result, most of the more than 9,000 entries contained in Chinese Wikipedia are written using the simplified Chinese characters used in China, rather than the traditional characters used in Taiwan, he said.

"One would assume and hope the impact (of Chinese Wikipedia) would be positive, 'liberating' the Mainlanders from the restrictive Communist censorship," Menchi said. "But reality often has a funny way of backfiring on us. It is very possible at the first sign of trouble the Communist government will put the Great Firewall up and permanently cut Mainlander Wikipedians off."

So far, that hasn't been a problem.

"Many Westerners are shocked to learn that Chinese Wikipedia has never been 'firewalled' by the Communist government, but many Mainlander Wikipedians actually think it’s not surprising. They consider their government to be reasonable, so long as one does nothing insane to offend the government," Menchi said, noting that some contributors from Mainland China have suggested toning down entries on politically sensitive topics, such as Tibetan independence.

One reason why Chinese Wikipedia has not been blocked by Chinese censors may be the site's insistence that all entries reflect a neutral point of view, a policy that defines all Wikipedia versions in other languages. The neutral point of view is intended to avoid editing wars between contributors competing to impose their interpretation of various subjects on other readers.

"The site is not blocked en masse at the site level because its not obviously pro or against anything because of the neutral point of view policy," said Andrew Lih, an associate professor and director of technology at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Center.

Another reason Chinese Wikipedia has not been blocked by Chinese censors may be its low profile and relatively small group of regular contributors. As the site gets more attention and attracts more contributors, Chinese censors may decide to block access to the site, giving an indication of how much exposure censors are willing to tolerate for a site like this, Lih said.

"As the profile gets higher and higher it's going to be interesting to measure what threshold these folks have for it," he said.

For now, the site remains accessible in China and makes available information on a range of sensitive topics, including an entry on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

The entry, which includes the famous picture of an anonymous Chinese demonstrator facing off against a column of tanks, describes in detail events leading up to June 4, 1989, when Chinese soldiers used force to clear Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. It notes that the Chinese government reported more than 200 people were killed in that incident, including more than 30 students. But it goes on to note that foreign media reports estimated that more than 1,000 people were killed.

However, the entry also pushes the boundaries of objectivity, noting that some people believe the majority of the students who died on June 4, 1989, were hunger strikers who died of starvation -- a theory that was not widely reported by the official Chinese media or foreign press.

By comparison, the same entry on the English-version of Wikipedia notes that estimates for the number of people killed range as high as 2,600. The English entry makes no specific mention of official Chinese government estimates or the theory that those who died were hunger strikers who succumbed to starvation.

"The fact there is even the picture of the guy standing in front of the tanks in that article (on Chinese Wikipedia) is huge but there's other parts of it where you scratch your head and say, 'Well, I wouldn't put it that way,'" Lih said, noting that the openness of Wikipedia could serve to undermine the quality of information that is contained on the site.

"In the long run, as more Chinese get on to it, the Chinese Wikipedia could actually get worse in quality because you have people contributing to it that are not as enlightened or informed about this stuff as people who know the whole story," Lih said.

"On the other hand, it could open up a real debate. ...This could be a real eye-opener for the folks in China," he said.

Sumner Lemon

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
IDG News Service staff

IDG News Service staff

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?