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China Lifts Wikipedia Ban, but Some Topics Remain Blocked

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said site administrators had not received any explanation for the change in policy. “There was no official word or unofficial word,” he said. “It’s a mysterious black box.” Unlike Web companies like Yahoo and Google, Wikipedia, which is run by a nonprofit foundation, has never agreed to censor material aimed at users in China as a condition for access to that audience. But Mr. Wales said, “We still want to reach out and make friendly overtures — at least if there was a problem with a particular article they could tell us.” He said he planned to visit Beijing to build on this momentum by “getting a little press attention.” Word of the change in access spread quickly online over the weekend. The Chinese authorities made no announcements about changes in their censorship policies. They officially maintain that the Internet is open and uncensored in China. In removing restrictions on Wikipedia, the Chinese government appears to be choosing to rely instead on keyword filters that block specific material on all sites, including Wikipedia. Subjects that are still off-limits on Wikipedia include high-level politics, the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the Falun Gong movement and historical events like the Communist revolution. Administrators of the Chinese Wikipedia, who work on a volunteer basis and tend to be university students or recent graduates, were nonetheless thrilled with the news. One, who did not want to be identified for fear of attracting attention from the authorities, wrote an in e-mail message that he could tell there were many new contributors because they were writing articles in simplified Chinese, the modified script that is more common in mainland China than in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Another sign of new and unsophisticated contributors, the administrator wrote, was the jump in the number of articles that were simply copied and pasted from other Chinese sources. He added: “We have plenty of hard-working administrators, so the situation is still under control,” punctuating the line with a smiley face. When Chinese authorities opened up access to the English version of Wikipedia last month, it was a less surprising move because of the language barrier. In Wikipedia’s brief history there have been earlier periods when it was blocked in China, and there is no guarantee that the open access will continue. A little more than a year ago, both versions were accessible, only to be blocked again.
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