CNET’s Buzz Out Loud podcast recently talked about the Wikipedia block being lifted in China. I noted a few inaccuracies in their report and sent an audio comment, of which they used the first minute or so. I’ve put in my entire audio segement here with observations about the Great Firewall.
- Buzz Out Loud for 2006-10-12 – MP3 (top of the program, “Wikipedia unblocked in China”)
- Buzz Out Loud for 2006-10-13 – MP3 (my audio comment, 18:45 into the program)
- My unedited full comment – MP3 (3 minutes)
Text version of my comments below:
Hi Buzz Out Loud,
I’m glad to see you led off the show with news about Wikipedia being more accessible in China. Users here in the PRC are pretty excited about the lifting of the block.
Unlike other news outlets, you correctly noted the English version is now accessible, while the Chinese version is still blocked in many places. I was one of the folks who posted to Slashdot about not getting too excited yet, because it’s still only a PARTIAL lifting.
It’s also interesting to note the lifting of this block comes almost one year to the day it was blocked, on October 19, 2005.
However, I’d like to point out an error in your report. Now it’s understandable because it was badly reported first in The Guardian newspaper in September and then further misreported in BoingBoing before it got corrected.
You mentioned, “China had asked Wikipedia to censor itself to appease totalitarian Beijing.”
Now this never happened. The Chinese authorities never requested anything from the Wikimedia Foundation or anyone connected with Wikipedia. I work quite closely with the Wikipedia community in China so I would have known, and I also confirmed this with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.
In fact, it is standard for the PRC to never to discuss why anything is blocked or under what conditions a block might be lifted. So hopefully people will understand this was not a negotiation – users in China have been patiently waiting for this day for nearly a year. And it’s finally come.
Another thing you mentioned was that “Tiananmen has been the focal point” for blocking content. While Tiananmen content will likely get blocked, it is only one of many subjects that might get blocked. Some other standard subjects are Tibet, Taiwan independence or the falun gong spiritual movement. Other terms like swear words or pornographic content are blocked too. In fact there are probably many social conservatives in the US that wouldn’t mind blocking the same sites.
But you’d also be surprised what does NOT get filtered.
Tom mentioned content about the Great Leap Forward would probably be blocked. In fact, the English Wikipedia page for Great Leap Forward worked fine for me. And if you click down the list of China History articles in Wikipedia the following worked just fine: Hundred Flowers Campaign, Cultural Revolution, Chinese Civil War, Gang of Four, Chinese economic reform, and even the original Tiananmen Incident of 1976.
However, once you click on the article for Tiananmen protests of 1989 you get blocked. So actually, I’m pretty impressed it let through the Tiananmen Incident of 1976, but blocked the more controversial Tiananmen protests of 1989.
So here’s something that’s a bit counterintuitive – the filtering in China’s Great Firewall is getting more technically sophisticated, with observers seeing it as becoming more ominous.
But in fact, it’s very likely more sites can be unblocked and available to China’s Internet users, because the page-by-page filtering can catch the “problem” articles, while letting the rest through. This “high tech filtering” might just be the reason why Wikipedia can be unblocked today so that 99% of the 1.4 million articles can now be accessed. That’s a mixed blessing I suppose.
I’m a big fan of the podcast, and I’m looking into creating a podcast for the Wikipedia community in the same style as Buzz Out Loud. I’ll let you know when that happens. Keep up the good work.