Knowledge outage

All Wikipedia banned in China


The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has many entries on the subject of censorship in China.

There is a page about the Great Firewall – the colloquial name for the virtual barrier that controls access on the Chinese internet. There is even a page on ‘DNS Poisoning’ – a method that the authorities use to block certain websites.

And there is page devoted to the censorship of Wikipedia around the globe. It currently reads thus: “On 23 April 2019, all versions of Wikipedia were blocked in China.”

Wikipedia, which joins Google, Facebook and YouTube on the list of sites now inaccessible in the mainland, released a statement this month calling for the lifting of the ban. “Open access to knowledge is a fundamental human right,” it insisted.

Wikipedia has a patchy history in China. The Chinese language version of the encyclopedia was launched in 2001 and initially met with praise from state media. But by 2005 the Chinese version had been blocked. Versions in other languages, including English, largely remained available – although over time Chinese censors have tried to put blocks on individual pages with content that they didn’t like.

Changes in how Wikipedia served up its content have made that more difficult, forcing countries to block entire language versions rather than a selection of pages. Turkey blocked all of Wikipedia in April 2017, citing “national security”. China’s ban is now all-encompassing too, says the Open Observatory of Network Interference, an organisation that monitors which sites are censored in China.

Wikipedia tweeted that the reasons for the block were “unknown to us,” although one user from Shanghai responded sharply with a “Don’t be daft”. And the answer to why this is happening now probably lies in the fact that 2019 is seen by the authorities as a particularly sensitive year for anniversaries. Earlier this month was the centenary of the May Fourth Movement, whose supporters mixed patriotic fervour with calls for the adoption of Western ideas in areas like science and political representation (see WiC450). Next month there is the thirtieth anniversary of what Xinhua has termed the “political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989”. while October 1 will mark 70 years since Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The government likes to control how dates like these are commemorated, with an op-ed from two former China correspondents from the Guardian newspaper describing it thus: “China retrofits its history into a vision that starts in the Stone Age and ends with the Communist Party, a single continuum that serves to legitimise the current leadership and its narrative of the past.”

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