Is Wikipedia China Really Wikipedia?

(AP)
Wikipedia and China are two of our favorite subjects, and the uneasy meeting of the two is the topic of a fascinating story in the International Herald Tribune. Turns out the online encyclopedia, which can be edited by anyone, hasn't gone over all that well with China's censors, and they've frequently blocked access to the site. But Chinese Wikipedia continues to grow "by leaps and bounds" anyway.

It's not quite the same as its American counterpart, however. Entries in Wikipedia China on topics such as Mao Zedong and Taiwan are watered down and sanitized – there's no mention of murder or famine in the Mao entry, for example. The Tiananmen Square massacre doesn't show up at all. And this isn't, as one might think, simply a question of censorship - it's bigger than that. As the IHT notes, the people editing the entries are products of the Chinese educational system, which "provides a neatly sanitized national perspective on sensitive aspects of the country's past." Combine that with the fact that foreign Web sites are often blocked and the media is strictly monitored by the state, and you're left with a situation in which objective information is hard to come by. Many Chinese simply don't have enough information available to them to make their version of Wikipedia more accurately reflect reality.

And even if they did, they'd have to be careful, as China is infamously intolerant of political dissent. The IHT story notes a homegrown online encyclopedia in China called Baidu Baike which apparently copies much of its content from Wikipedia, but makes sure it stays on the right side of government overseers. The editorial policy is centered on not "judging the existing national system with malice." And what, exactly, does that mean? Zhang Yan, a spokesman for the company, explained it to the IHT like this: "Anyone who is Chinese knows."

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