Last week, for about 48 hours, Wikipedia.com, a multilingual online open-content encyclopedia, was inaccessible to users throughout China. On June 17, around 6:30PM Beijing time, the site opened up to users in China.
Though it is still unclear why the site was blocked, the ban does come on the heels of a new circular issued by the Chinese government asking for Internet Service Providers to show patriotism and refrain from "inappropriate material", which includes contentious political and social commentary.
When informed of the ban, Wikipedia's founder James Wales, in an interview with ChinaTechNews.com, says, "By policy, Wikipedia is not a political site in any way. We are a general reference encyclopedia with a strong neutrality policy. Articles are carefully researched and reviewed by Chinese people in Taiwan, Hong Kong, as well as mainland China. Therefore, Wikipedia is an excellent test case. When Wikipedia is blocked, it can not be claimed that only lies or propaganda are blocked, because we are neither. When we are blocked, it is information itself that is being blocked."
The new government circular issued last week recommends that Internet Service Providers only allow "wholesome online information" and news that conforms to "fairness and trustworthiness".
Wales says, "By policy, representatives of the Chinese government would be welcome to edit our articles in conformance with our [Wikipedia] neutrality policy."
Wales was not overly concerned by the block, maintaining that it was most likely unintentional, "I think it must have been a bureaucratic error. If not, it is very embarassing to the Chinese government, I think. It is one thing to block gambling sites, or pornography, or political opinions, but it is another thing altogether to admit that it is information itself that is the enemy. I doubt if they will continue that. Probably some administrator will be reprimanded."
After Wikipedia became accessible again to China's netizens, Wales attributed the reprise to mainland users, responding, "As is the usual Wikipedia way, apparently a group of volunteers did whatever was necessary to make a timely appeal to the censors."
Wikipedia's founders hope that by 2025, Wikipedia will be a standard reference work used by children and adults all over China, in both paper and electronic editions.