Houston Community News >> China Lifts Wikipedia Ban

11/18/2006 China (International Hearld Tribune) -- Internet surfers in China once again have unfettered access to Wikipedia, the popular free online encyclopedia, after the Chinese government quietly dismantled its digital barriers against the service, according to the founder of Wikipedia.

"The community in mainland China is basically telling us that they're able to access" the site, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, said Wednesday.

The move restores access to the Chinese version of Wikipedia and comes less than a month after the Chinese government moved to extend access to the English version of the Web site from within the country.

The decision opens up the fast-growing Web site to the tens of millions of potential readers and contributors in China who have access to the Internet. The Chinese Wikipedia site recently included more than 100,000 articles, which were based largely on contributions from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Wales said that Web site administrators had not received any explanation for the change in policy. "There was no official word or unofficial word," he said. "It's a mysterious black box."

The news appears to vindicate Wales's tough stance against Internet censorship.

Wales has repeatedly said that Wikipedia would not remove articles about subjects regarded by the Chinese government as controversial, like the 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Major U.S. Internet portals like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have voluntarily censored the Internet content they offer in China, in exchange for the right to do business there.

But Wales also said that Wikipedia wants "to reach out and make friendly overtures - at least if there was a problem with a particular article they could tell us."

He said he planned to visit Beijing to build on this momentum by "getting a little press attention."

Word of the change in access spread quickly over the weekend. The Chinese authorities made no announcements about modifications to their Internet policy, and officially say that the Internet is open and uncensored in China.

In removing restrictions on Wikipedia, the Chinese government appears to be choosing to rely on keyword filters that block specific material on all sites, including Wikipedia, rather than banning entire Web sites. Subjects that are still off-limits on Wikipedia include high-level politics, the crackdown of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the Falun Gong movement and certain historical events.

Administrators of the Chinese Wikipedia site, who work on a volunteer basis, expressed enthusiasm over the change in access to their site. One administrator, who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal from the authorities, said in an in electronic mail message that he could tell there were many new contributors to the site because they were writing articles in simplified Chinese, the modified script that is more common in mainland China than in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Another sign of new contributors, the administrator wrote, was the increase in the number of articles that were simply copied and pasted from other Chinese sources.

When the Chinese authorities opened up access to the English version of Wikipedia last month, it was deemed a less surprising move because of the natural barriers of language.

(Contributed by IHT.Com)