Wikipedia seeks more exposure for Beijing - when the censors relent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 December, 2010, 12:00am

Wikipedia plans to help some big developing countries gain more understanding around the globe in the next five years, but China is not among them, thanks to its severe internet censorship.

The non-profit organisation hopes that, with additional resources pouring in, more content about India and Brazil can be created on its platform, one of its senior volunteer administrators says.

Chen Ting, chairman of the Wikimedia Foundation's board of trustees, told a casual gathering of several dozen users of Chinese Wikipedia in Shanghai last month that the plan could also improve the free multilingual Web encyclopaedia.

Chen said 'the number of articles introducing India and Brazil on Wikipedia is relatively small', disproportionate to the power of the two nations and the size of their populations. 'And we always want to improve the variety [of Wikipedia's content] and have some kind of balance [of information].'

By the end of last month, more than 17 million articles, in 276 languages, had been created by individual internet users on Wikipedia, making it the world's biggest and most influential online encyclopaedia.

Chen said the mainland was not a priority yet, with only 334,000 Chinese articles on Wikipedia. The number of Chinese articles ranks 12th among all languages, after Russian and Swedish and ahead of Catalan.

Two other factors behind the focus on India and Brazil were that they already had basic internet infrastructure and 'the risk facing the foundation' would be relatively small, Chen said.

He said different risks had to be dealt with in different countries and, without specifying what the risks were on the mainland, cited problems encountered by the China Blogger Conference last month.

Chen was invited to give the keynote speech at the sixth annual gathering of grass-roots mainland bloggers, but the event was cancelled because organisers were unable to find a venue in Shanghai willing to host it. 'That's a risk you can't predict,' he said.

According to records on Wikipedia, its Chinese webpage was blocked temporarily six times by mainland authorities between 2004 and July 2008. It has operated unhindered since then.

Chen and other senior Chinese Wikipedia users said the removal of obstacles had triggered a steady increase in the number of mainland users contributing more detailed content about China.

For example, Hong Kong's smaller streets had been described since the founding of the platform, but it was only since its Chinese webpage was unblocked that mainland users had begun to detail small towns, streets and lesser-known historical figures. Riding the wave of internet collaboration led by Wikipedia, mainlanders have created other forms to meet online demand.

Some new websites, such as, and, focus on co-operative translation. Several people registered with Yeeyan jointly translated The Facebook Effect, a book on social media.

But internet analysts and business insiders warn that internet censorship on the mainland is one of the biggest barriers to the development of such online collaboration.

'It will always be too risky to launch user-generated-content projects because if there is any politically sensitive information, the whole website could be banned, and we all know it is hard to monitor every user,' a senior editor at one mainland portal said.

Chen said from a historical perspective, 'China always had some bad time when it was closed. In contrast, it has always benefited from opening up, and we hope it can take advantage of the openness [of the internet] to communicate'.

Spreading the word

Wikipedia is the world's biggest and influential online encyclopaedia

By the end of last month, more than 17 million articles had been created in this many languages: 276