Understanding Wikipedia’s Re-Block

Wikipedia was blocked again in China this morning between 9am and 10am local time. A new user registration chart, plotted by hour, shows exactly when the block occurred (ie. the red dot). The open nature of Wikipedia and its public log files made this quite easy to determine.

Wikipedia statistics - Reblocked Nov 17

The chart shows UTC time (ie. time in London) making the black vertical lines correspond to 8am (UTC+8) in Beijing and all of China.

Some observations:

  • On a typical day, traffic starts to climb at 9am when people start work/study and traffic starts falling just after midnight.
  • Just before the re-block, there were a record 1823 new user registrations in a 24 hour period. That’s more than one new person per minute on average. This is a significant jump from the 1200-1300 per day on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Even with the block reinstituted, there may still be some PRC folks who can get through. There are about 40 new user registrations per hour right now, whereas a sampling of October 6, when completely blocked in the PRC, showed 20 new users per hour. It is hard to tell without additional stats.

To the media, and folks who have been checking this site for stories, please do wait another day before drawing too many conclusions. The Great Firewall is a distributed system, and not a monolithic one. It will take some time to figure out the state of affiars, and it is not unusual for access to be in flux over a number of days.

Theories Abound

Meanwhile, there has been casual speculation why a block might have been reinstituted.

One story being passed around — yesterday a reporter asked about the unblocking at the regular Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference in Beijing. The response from the PRC spokeswoman was, “I do not know the details of the web site you mentioned,” and a standard rundown of China’s Internet statistics. It’s one of the rare times you’ll see Wikipedia mentioned in an official Chinese government transcript:

Q: 此外,去年10月以来一直被封杀的维基百科中文网站上周得以解禁,你对此有何评论?
Q: The Chinese website of Wikipedia, which had been blocked since last October, was unblocked last week, do you have any comments?

A: 我不清楚你提到的具体网站情况。中国政府积极支持和促进互联网的发展。截止2005年,中国上网用户已超过1.23亿人,中国网站数量达78.8万个。中国已成为世界第二大互联网国家。我们依法对互联网进行管理,这也是世界各国通行的做法。
A: I do not know the details about the website you mentioned. The Chinese [PRC] government actively supports and promotes the development of Internet. By 2005, there have been over 123 million Internet users and 788,000 websites in China. China has become the second largest country for Internet in the world. We oversee the Internet according to laws, this is also what every country in the world does commonly.

That’s the official line. Some Wikipedians have suggested that asking in a high profile press conference might have gotten the site re-examined by higher level folks, and thereby reblocked. Perhaps it was a lower level person who initiated the unblocking, and a higher level person wanted it blocked. This is all speculation. There is no way to know at this point.

55 thoughts on “Understanding Wikipedia’s Re-Block

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