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This article is from:

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Blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


On several occasions, the government and Internet service providers of the People's Republic of China have blocked Wikipedia in mainland China due to strict censorship laws enacted by the PRC.

The blocks function in a similar way to a content filter. As with internet censorship in the PRC in general, the territories of Hong Kong and Macau, which have separate legal systems, are not affected. Wikimedia sites have been blocked at least three times in their history; as with all other blocks in the PRC, there was no warning beforehand or explanations afterwards.

In April 2006, Chinese search engine company Baidu launched Baidu Baike, a wiki-like Chinese language online encyclopedia, based in mainland China. Baidu Baike's content policies differ from those of Wikipedia,[1] and the site has not been subject to blocking.


First block

The first block spanned June 2 and June 21, 2004. It began when access to the Chinese Wikipedia from Beijing was blocked on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Possibly related to this occurrence, on May 31 an article from the IDG News Service was published,[2] discussing the Chinese Wikipedia's treatment of the protests. The Chinese Wikipedia also has articles on various controversial topics in China, such as Taiwan independence, written by contributors from Taiwan and elsewhere, Falun Gong, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and so on. A few days after the initial block of Chinese Wikipedia, all Wikimedia sites were blocked in mainland China.

In response to the blocks, two sysops on the Chinese Wikipedia, 'Shizhao' and 'Mountain', contacted their respective ISPs, and confirmed that the Wikimedia sites had been blocked. Shizhao's ISP, China Science & Technology Net, expressed willingness to submit an appeal to lift the block. Shizhao and Mountain then drafted an appeal, which was submitted on June 15, 2004. The appeal stated that Wikipedia was an encyclopedia that does not serve any political bias, strives to be neutral, and provides an avenue for foreigners to understand China and Chinese culture. The appeal also compared the Chinese Wikipedia's coverage of controversial topics to coverage in existing encyclopedias in China, and suggested that the blocking of Wikipedia would prevent sysops from removing undesirable content. All the Wikimedia sites were unblocked between June 17 and June 21, 2004.

There was no explanation for the block, either before or after its occurrence. The block had an effect on the vitality of Chinese Wikipedia, which suffered sharp dips in various indicators such as the number of new users, the number of new articles, and the number of edits. In some cases, it took anywhere from 6 to 12 months in order for these to return to their levels of May 2004.

Second block

The second and less serious block lasted between September 23 and September 27, 2004. During this 4-day period, access to Wikipedia was erratic or unavailable to some users in mainland China — this block was not comprehensive and some users in mainland China were never affected. The exact reason for the block was unknown, but it may have been linked with the closing down of YTHT BBS, a popular Peking University-based BBS that was shut down a few weeks earlier for hosting overtly radical political discussions. Former users from the BBS had arrived en masse on Chinese Wikipedia. Chinese Wikipedians once again prepared a written appeal to regional ISPs, but the block was lifted before the appeal was actually sent out.

Third block

The third and current block began on 19 October 2005. Nearly a year later on 10 October 2006, the block was partially lifted.

In response to the block, the main page of the Chinese Wikipedia has added a message at the top directing any mainland China user who succeeds in getting through to a special status page. Dozens of editors from across mainland China have reported on the status page that they can only access Wikipedia using proxy servers.

On 21 October 2005, 'Shizhao' once again submitted an appeal to his ISP, and stated, "If nothing goes wrong, the block should be lifted within one week." On October 24, Shizhao posted, "The block will be lifted by Wednesday [October 26]. According to procedure (the details of which are unknown), after the appeal is submitted, a reply will come within 3 business days, and my appeal has already been submitted by the ISP on Friday. My ISP has said that so far they haven't encountered a case where an appeal has failed. This should be good news, but it's still impossible to know the reason for the block."

The appeal submitted strove to be closer to the position of the Chinese government than the first appeal submitted in 2004. It stated, "... [t]he most effective approach is not to reject [this project] outside our borders, but to participate in it actively. If we block Wikipedia, we lose the opportunity to speak with the world with a Chinese voice, and allow forces such as evil cults and Taiwan independence [to] control the development of content in the project, thus presenting to the world a twisted [image of] China; as users, we lose a channel through which we could access knowledge, a channel whose importance is rising constantly; such an act [i.e. blocking] is no different from cutting away our own voice and tongue, or shutting our own eyes and ears; it is closing the doors to our country in the age of the internet." (~Original text~)

In the morning of 31 October 2005, Chinese Standard Time (UTC +8), Wikipedians from all parts of mainland China began to report that they could access Wikipedia without using proxies. It was initially thought that the block had indeed been lifted, but later on the apparent "unblocking" was linked to the deployment of an LVS load balancer in front of the squid in the Korean server cluster, which changed the IP address of Wikimedia sites for users in China, thus circumventing the block. In any case, within a few hours normal access to Wikipedia was once again impossible.

There has been some discussion that a self-censored version could be made available to users in mainland China, and supporters argue that 99% of Wikipedia would remain intact. However, these ideas have not been put into practice.

Unblocking and reblocking

Beginning from October 10, 2006, conflicting reports came in from different parts of China about a possible lifting of the block. The first report of a change was by a blogger in Liuzhou, Guangxi, who posted his finding to an online forum at about 6 pm on October 10, 2006, Beijing Time.[3] However, access appears to differ depending on location and internet service provider as a result of more fine-grained blocking. According to initial reports by bloggers within China, China Netcom residential DSL in Beijing allowed access to English Wikipedia but denied access to Chinese Wikipedia. Meanwhile China Telecom DSL in Shanghai allowed access to both, as did CETC-CHINACOMM Communications Co. Ltd in Beijing. Various providers in Anhui blocked access to Chinese Wikipedia but not to the English version.[4] Posters to the Slashdot online forum who stated that they were in Beijing further noted that while they could access the English language version of the Tiananmen Square article, which includes a brief description of the 1989 protests, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 article remained blocked.[5] There was a similar report that the article democracy was available on English Wikipedia, while Falun Gong was unavailable.[6] In contrast, Reporters Without Borders stated on 12 October that English Wikipedia appeared entirely unblocked, including the article on the 1989 protests, but that the Chinese language version was unaccessible for most Chinese. The advocacy organization criticized the government shift as meant "to appease its critics abroad while continuing to censor the information available to its own population," while congratulating "those in charge of Wikipedia, especially Jimmy Wales".[7] Wikipedia users state that other language editions, including German, Japanese, and Korean are available at this time.[8]

On 10 November 2006, blogger Andrew Lih reported that Chinese Wikipedia appeared to have been fully unblocked.[9] Lih confirmed the full unblocking several days later and offered a partial analysis of the effects based on the rate of new account creation on Chinese Wikipedia. Prior to the unblocking, 300-400 new accounts were created on Chinese Wikipedia daily. In the four days since the unblocking, the rate of new registrations more than tripled to over 1,200 daily, jumping into the second fastest growing Wikipedia after the English version. Similarly, there were 75% more articles created in the week ending on November 13th than during the week before. Coming on the same weekend that Chinese Wikipedia passed the 100,000 article mark, Lih predicted that the second 100,000 would come quickly but that the existing body of Chinese Wikipedia users would have their hands full teaching the new users and teaching them basic Wikipedia policies and norms.[10]

On 16 November 2006, Reuters news agency reported the main page of the Chinese language version of Wikipedia ( could be displayed and searches for apolitical terms turned up results, but some subjects remained blocked, such as "June 4".[11] However, subsequent reports suggested that both the Chinese and English versions had been reblocked the next day on 17 November. It is not yet confirmable if the unblocking that occurred in October and November 2006 was due to technical problems of the so-called "Great Firewall of China" or for any other reasons.[12]


Chinese Wikipedians have expressed fears about the detrimental effects that a permanent ban would have. First of all, the block deprives a useful resource from the majority of Chinese speakers in the world. Moreover, since mainland Chinese form a significant portion of the Chinese Wikipedia community (46% of all users in March 2005), a long-term block could severely stunt the growth of Wikipedia similar to the June 2004 block. Finally, as the presence of contributors from multiple communities and viewpoints has helped in ensuring neutrality in some controversial topics (e.g. Taiwan independence), the sudden removal of one community could exacerbate systemic bias on the Chinese Wikipedia.

There has been much speculation over the cause of the block. Possible reasons offered include controversial articles in Wikipedia itself and recent controversial events in the news that Wikipedia has covered, though as of now none of these are confirmed.

Circumvention of the block

Technically adept Internet users in China are currently able to circumvent the block fairly easily.[13]

Psiphon software, announced in December 2006, claims to allow Internet-blocked countries such as China to access Wikipedia. Michael Hull, Psiphon's lead engineer, told CBC News Online, "We're aiming at giving people access to sites like Wikipedia."[14]


  1. ^ (Chinese) 百科原则. Baidu Baike. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  2. ^ Chinese Build Free Net Encyclopedia. PC WORLD. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  3. ^ "Wikipedia Unblocked?" thread. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  4. ^ China PARTIALLY unblocks Wikipedia. blog. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  5. ^ "I'm In Beijing and Here I Go...". Slashdot user perfectlynormalbeast. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  6. ^ "Wikipedia unblocked, but is Nanny throttling Youtube uploads?". DANWEI blog user. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  7. ^ "China: Government unblocks access to Wikipedia’s English-language version". Reporters Without Borders press release. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  8. ^ Wikipedia:Village pump (news). Statement by Wikipedia user m.e.. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  9. ^ "Chinese Wikipedia now fully unblocked?". blog. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  10. ^ "Chinese Wikipedia’s Surge in Growth". blog. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  11. ^ "Wikipedia unblocked in China after year-long ban". Reuters. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  12. ^ "The Nanny changes her mind: Wikipedia blocked again". DANWEI. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  13. ^ "Wikipedia:Advice to users using Tor to bypass the Great Firewall. Retrieved on 2007-02-14.
  14. ^ "Tool to circumvent internet censorship set to launch". Retrieved on 2006-12-24.

See also

  • Internet censorship in mainland China
  • Golden Shield Project
  • Politics of China
  • Human rights in the People's Republic of China
  • Baidu Baike

External links

Wikinews has news related to:
Chinese ban of Wikimedia enters tenth week
Meta has a page about this at:
China block
  • Chinese Wikipedia
News reports
  • China 'unblocks' Wikipedia site (BBC News)
  • Reference Tool On Web Finds Fans, Censors (Washington Post Foreign Service)
  • Full Text: Cui Objects to Wikipedia Shutdown (translated by The Washington Post Beijing Bureau)
  • Full Text: Shi's Defense of Wikipedia (translated by The Washington Post Beijing Bureau)
  • China and Internet Censorship (
  • Authorities block access to online encyclopaedia (International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX))


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