Beijing's ban on English Wikipedia rescinded

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am


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The central government appears to have lifted its block on the English version of online encyclopedia Wikipedia but still restricts users from visiting the Chinese-language version of the popular website.

The move came after the International Olympic Committee demanded this week that Beijing not block the internet during the Games, warning that such a practice would 'reflect very poorly' on the host nation.

The IOC said the Beijing Olympic organising committee (Bocog) promised internet access and live television broadcasts during the sporting event would be unrestricted. As part of the promise, the mainland lifted a long-standing block on the BBC's website a few days ago.

Mainland internet users found yesterday that they could go to the English-language version of Wikipedia and conduct searches.

But requests for information about politically sensitive words or incidents, such as 'Tibet' and 'Tiananmen Square protests', were unsuccessful. The Chinese-language site also remained blocked.

Access to Wikipedia on the mainland was denied in 2005. It was available again the following year but blocked again in August last year.

Mainland netizens applauded the relaxation in censorship even though several sites, such as those operated by human rights groups and others deemed subversive by the country's authorities, are still off limits.

'I have heard about Wikipedia for a long time and never had opportunity to have a look at it,' Shenzhen university student Chen Xi said. 'Apart from those political things, I can enjoy many fair and non-official explanations of things.

'At least it's progress for our government. Some access is definitely better than no access.'

Other users were looking forward to access to previously banned sources. 'Actually we can always use proxy servers and other tricks to gain access to the site,' one information technology engineer said.

He said balance came from hearing all sides of a story but was also sceptical of the value of some sources. 'We won't believe anything from foreign media and websites,' the engineer said. 'For example, many famous foreign news agencies reported matters inconsistent with the facts of the Tibet case.'

According to the English-language Wikipedia entry for Tibet, 'Tibet proclaimed its independence from China in 1911 on the eve of the fall of the Qing dynasty and its subsequent internal turmoil, while China never renounced its claim of sovereignty to Tibet. No country formally recognised Tibet as an independent country from 1912 to 1951. Tibet remained a de facto independent state until shortly after the conclusion of the Chinese civil war.'