Blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China

Blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China

On several occasions, the government and Internet service providers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) have blocked access to 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 self-governing 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.

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, [zh icon cite web| url=| title=百科原则| accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=Baidu Baike] and the site has not been subject to blocking.

In June 2007, the block was lifted except for the Chinese version of Wikipedia and a select number of articles (including Falun Gong and Tiananmen Square protests of 1989). In August 2007, all languages were blocked again.

In April 2008, access to most of the Wikipedia English site was again restored amid the heavy protests occurring during the Olympic torch relay around the world.

In September 2008, Jimmy Wales had a meeting with Cai Mingzhao, Vice Director of China's State Council Information Office ("the government body whose 'Internet Management Division' is in charge of censoring online content.") While no agreements were made, Wales believes that a channel of communication has been opened between Wikipedia's community and the Chinese Government. []


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, [cite web| url=,aid,116323,00.asp| title=Chinese Build Free Net Encyclopedia| accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=PC WORLD] discussing the Chinese Wikipedia's treatment of the protests. The Chinese Wikipedia also has articles on various topics considered controversial within 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|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.

econd 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 Wikipedia editors 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 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), Wikipedia editors 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. [cite web| url=| title="Wikipedia Unblocked?" thread| accessdate=2006-12-24|] 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. [cite web| url=| title=China PARTIALLY unblocks Wikipedia| accessdate=2006-12-24| blog] 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 srlink|Tiananmen Square article, which includes a brief description of the 1989 protests, the srlink|Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 article remained blocked. [cite web| url=| title="I'm In Beijing and Here I Go..."| accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=Slashdot user perfectlynormalbeast] There was a similar report that the article srlink|democracy was available on English Wikipedia, while srlink|Falun Gong was unavailable. [cite web| url=| title="Wikipedia unblocked, but is Nanny throttling Youtube uploads?" | accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=DANWEI blog user] 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". [cite web| url=| title="China: Government unblocks access to Wikipedia’s English-language version" | accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=Reporters Without Borders press release] Wikipedia users state that other language editions, including German, Japanese, and Korean are available at this time. [cite web| url=| title=Wikipedia:Village pump (news) | accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=Statement by Wikipedia user m.e.]

On 10 November 2006, blogger Andrew Lih reported that Chinese Wikipedia appeared to have been fully unblocked. [cite web| url=| title="Chinese Wikipedia now fully unblocked?" | accessdate=2006-12-24| blog] 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. [cite web| url=| title="Chinese Wikipedia’s Surge in Growth" | accessdate=2006-12-24| blog]

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". [cite web| url=| title="Wikipedia unblocked in China after year-long ban"| accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=Reuters] 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. [cite web| url=| title="The Nanny changes her mind: Wikipedia blocked again"| accessdate=2006-12-24| publisher=DANWEI]

On 15 June 2007, the block was lifted, with the exception of several "sensitive" articles and the Chinese Wikipedia. [cite web |url= |title=English Wikipedia unblocked in China |accessdate=2007-06-20] On 25 July 2007, the Chinese Wikipedia was unblocked as well. From there the number of blocked articles slowly increased, and including several talk pages, and news links. Users in China who attempted to access a blocked article or any page on the Chinese Wikipedia were prevented from accessing any Wikimedia site for a period of sixty seconds.

On 30 August 2007, the block for Chinese Wikipedia was lifted.

Beginning 31 August 2007, all languages of Wikipedia were again blocked. [cite news | last = Schwankert| first = Steven | title = Wikipedia Blocked in China Again | publisher = IDG News via PCworld | date = 2007-09-06| url =,136879-c,sites/article.html| accessdate = 2008-01-26 ]

Unblocks in 2008

As of 2 April 2008, the block was lifted. [cite news | last = Barak | first = Sylvie | title = China uncensors Wikipedia | publisher = The Inquirer | date = 2008-04-03| url = | accessdate = 2008-04-03]

As of 5 April, 2008, the Chinese Wikipedia was difficult to access from the Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou. Connections to the Chinese Wikipedia are completely blocked as of April 6, 2008. Any attempt to access the Chinese Wikipedia results in a 60-second ban on all Wikimedia websites. However, users are able to log on to Chinese Wikipedia using https. All other languages are not blocked, but politically sensitive searches such as Tibet were still blocked.

As of 31 July 2008, "The Register" reported that access to the Chinese Wikipedia had again been unblocked. [cite web
title=Chinese net censors unblock BBC, Wikipedia
publisher = The Register
author=Cade Metz
date = 2008-07-31
accessdate = 2008-07-31
] This was confirmed by the BBC, and came within the context of foreign journalists arriving in Beijing to report on the upcoming Olympic Games; websites such as the Chinese edition of the BBC were being unblocked following talks between the International Olympic Committee and the Games' Chinese organisers. [ [ "Beijing unblocks BBC Chinese site"] , BBC, July 31, 2008]

Mirror Sites

The block occasionally raises a controversial debate if Wikipedians in China should build its own "censored" edition of Chinese Wikipedia, but most agreed that it does not comply with the Wikipedia policy. At this time, censorship is often done by mirror sites, mostly built by a group of volunteers. For a time being, while most sites synchronize the content with Wikipedia at real time, they tend to screen out the sensitive words, like Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and Falun Gong.

However, the government's policy on these sites are not known. In April 2008, one of the most known mirror sites [] was blocked in China, even though they have already censored most sensitive words. The reason for the block is still unknown.

Other sites, like [] , which allows the editing on Chinese Wikipedia, even go further to introduce a so-called "NPOV" (No political point of view ) to exclude most political articles about China. According to site builders, "Wikipedia should never censor anything. If we really need it for some reasons, let mirror sites do it."


The block helps to promote and utilize proxy software. Whenever a block occurs, business users outside mainland China (particularly from Hong Kong) receive collateral damage because business partners sometimes link their office network in Hong Kong with other offices' networks in mainland China. Such a block hinders business growth.

Circumvention of the block

Technically adept Internet users in China are currently able to circumvent the block fairly easily (using almost any anonymous proxy). [cite web|url=|title="Wikipedia:Advice to users using Tor to bypass the Great Firewall|accessdate=2007-02-14|] They may view but not edit Wikipedia in this manner, as a Wikipedia policy [] prevents users from editing using open proxies and many administrators block open proxies in a way which prevents even registered users from using them to edit articles. Internet users in China can also view archived versions of Wikipedia pages by going to a mirror such as

Due to the increasing popularity of cell phones running on the Windows Mobile platform, some users utilized the built-in dictionary software and converted Wikipedia articles, Wikinews, Wiktionary and others into .mfx format files. These files can be downloaded and browsed on cell phones and read while offline.Fact|date=June 2008

See also

*Chinese Wikipedia
*Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China
*Golden Shield Project
*Politics of the People's Republic of China
*Human rights in the People's Republic of China
*Baidu Baike
*Status report page on Chinese Wikipedia


External links

News reports
* [ Reporters without Borders article]
* [ New York Times Article]
* [ CBS News Article]
* [ Reuters Canada Article]
* [ Aljazeera Article] .
* [ "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))
* [ Wikipedia Versus China] "The Hour" with George Stroumboulopoulos, interview with Jimmy Wales, 13 Oct. 2006

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