Wikipedia is not Google: no to Chinese censorship

Beijing blocked the entire encyclopaedia forum because it refused to change or remove articles on "unwelcome" topics like the Tiananmen massacre. Millions of web pages have been blocked and China has been excluded from this global forum for fear that the Chinese people may come across forbidden news.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Wikipedia will not bow to Beijing censorship, said the site's founder. Jimmy Wales has accused China's political powers of exerting pressure and preventing the spread of complete information. The site has been blocked for several months because it tackles the entire gamut of human knowledge, including freedom, democracy, Taiwan and historical events like Tiananmen Square.

Wales, founder of the open-forum internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia, said on 26 August in Hong Kong that he did not intend to cave in under Chinese pressure to remove disapproved-of subjects, as other famous US internet websites accepted to do in exchange for access to the Chinese market. Wikipedia has enjoyed growing success in the country, not least thanks to its invitation to send articles in, but the site has been blocked by censorship since October. A similar website has been set up by the Chinese Web portal Baidu, but this version is heavily censored and careful to uphold the "official" truth about events like the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989.

In Hong Kong for three days to speak at the Chinese Wikimania 2006 conference at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Wales said he had no intention of sacrificing the site's independence or its culture of allowing users to add to and modify its pool of knowledge. He said the site would not take the same decision as Google did in February to accept censorship, as requested by Beijing. Main American websites like Google, Cisco, Yahoo and others, have come under accurate fire several times because they accepted public censorship in order to have access to the Chinese market. Further, they collaborate with the Chinese authorities, preventing users from accessing "unwelcome" sites (about matters like freedom, democracy, Taiwan, and Tiananmen Square) and some even revealed the identity of authors of articles, leading to their arrest and imprisonment.

"One of the things deeply important to me, and to the entire Wikipedia community, is that whatever we do to become accessible in China, must not be viewed as what Google has done in compromising censorship," said Wales. "It is not acceptable for us to do something to make sure the Chinese government authorises every edition of everything that comes out."

The Chinese-language version of Wikipedia is one of the most extensive: it has more than 85,000 articles, 2.7 million web pages and 15,000 images. Although it is censored, and inaccessible to a large portion of the Chinese-speaking world, it is still growing at a rate of 9% per month and is expected to exceed the 100,000-article mark before the year is out, and 250,000 by 2007. The English version of the encyclopaedia is the largest, with more than 1.3 million articles. Around 80 volunteers maintain more than half the Chinese edition.

Wales described the censorship of Wikipedia in China as a "huge mistake" because the majority of articles were on "neutral" topics such as art, history and technical facts. The vast majority of contributors who wrote and published information are not too interested in politics; rather they want to create dialogue between different viewpoints. So blocking the entire site to prevent people from reading anything deemed "sensitive", also denied the participation of all China to this global website, continued Wales.  This led to a mutual loss for the Chinese people on the one hand and the world community.

He added: "I cannot understand why Beijing shut down Wikipedia: whether it is for fear of anonymous attacks and criticism on the site or anxiety over the diffusion of knowledge."

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