For the 10th anniversary of China going online, PCWorld has a fascinating report about the growth of the "Chinese Wikipedia." Wikipedia is the collaboratively-edited online encyclopedia, with over 260,000 entries in English (and over 600,000 entries across 50 languages). (We've talked about wikis and Wikipedia before.) The Chinese Wikipedia, which uses the simplified mainland Chinese characters, now has 9,000 entries, including such potentially-sensitive topics as Tiananmen Square.
So far, the Chinese Wikipedia, which has been around since 2001, has managed to avoid being censored or firewalled off by the Beijing government. This could be because officials aren't yet aware of the project, or because the editors take great pain to keep the entries neutral in presentation.
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," says Andrew Lih, an associate professor and director of technology at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Center.
Perhaps. I suspect it's more likely that the government simply isn't yet paying close attention to the Wikipedia and its implications. I visited China in 1997, a time when many local officials were hungry to get their communities hooked onto the Internet. At that time, the desire to take advantage of what the online world had to offer (in both business and information) wrestled with the fear of the wild, chaotic nature of the net. In the subsequent seven years, this struggle for balance has not let up. The Chinese Wikipedia could well be a "canary in the coal mine" for Chinese online freedom, and is definitely worth watching.
I'm a reader living in China, and it seems that I'm unable to access the Chinese Wikipedia already. Could it have been blocked in the time since your posting this?
It could have been -- but I've seen no reports that it has. I'll keep my eyes open.