The HomeTrotters

Your home. Your space.

The battle for control of Chinese Wikipedia

wikipedia wikimedia foundationpasternack fastcompany

The battle for control of the Chinese Wikipedia is a microcosm for the broader struggle for freedom and control of the open internet. This conflict over the Chinese version of Wikipedia is a timely reminder that the open internet is constantly threatened by vested interests and governments worldwide.

This article will explore the conflict in detail and discuss what it means for the open internet.

Overview of the battle for control of Chinese Wikipedia

The battle to control Chinese Wikipedia has been a long and drawn-out conflict between two groups. On one side are the “Pro-Nationalists” composed of writers and editors who wish to institute nationalist-leaning editorial policies; on the other are those who support an open wiki with open access to all kinds of knowledge. Both sides have made numerous attempts to gain control over the content, but the Pro-Nationalists have had the upper hand since its inception in 2002.

Since then, Chinese Wikipedia has consistently maintained nationalistic content while actively discouraging input from outside sources. This has led to tension between academics, journalists, and invited editing teams outside China. It also led to some censorship of articles deemed too sensitive by Beijing authorities, such as Tibet or democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

At last count, five active editing teams were under various pro-level agreements backed by China’s government. Their efforts have resulted in controversial entries that often contain misinformation or are biassed towards nationalistic viewpoints. In response, many outside organisations created their Chinese wikis to counterbalance this trend – though these remain largely unfunded and unsubscribed compared to the massive war being waged for control over Chinese Wikipedia.

How the battle is a warning for the open internet

The battle for control of Chinese Wikipedia is more than just a fight for access to a particular website. It’s a cautionary tale that illustrates the need to protect the open internet – and defend its hard-won freedoms from government interference.

Chinese censorship of the open internet has been widely discussed, but few people consider its effects on Chinese Wikipedia. For Chinese users, Wikipedia is seen as their best resource of reliable information – and it serves as an important repository for knowledge, culture and history that stretch beyond China’s borders. But China’s vast censorship apparatus has devastated Chinese Wikipedia since it began operating in 2000.

As censorship continues to tighten around digital publications worldwide, the battle over Chinese Wikipedia serves as a warning sign of what could occur other sites used by millions worldwide. To preserve an open and accessible internet, digital advocates must continue to push back against government censors who seek to rewrite our historical memories, control economic data and restrict political discourse.


For over 15 years, Wikipedia has been a cornerstone of the open internet, providing free and open, user-generated content. However, Chinese Wikipedia has been at the center of a heated battle for control, between the Chinese government and its citizens.

In this article, we’ll look at the background and current state of the war over Chinese Wikipedia, and its implications for the internet.

History of Chinese Wikipedia

Chinese Wikipedia began as an online encyclopaedia in 2002 when volunteer translators launched the project, mirroring its English-language Baidu Baike and Japanese predecessor. At first, most of the project’s contributors were students who used it as a platform to practise their writing skills. However, soon after Chinese Wikipedia’s launch, it became one of the most influential sources for information about China on the web.

In 2006, Chinese Wikipedia was granted official approval by China’s Ministry of Culture and hosted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. By this stage, it had already become a major source for news and information about China for international and domestic audiences.

By 2008, Chinese Wikipedia was one of only three non-governmental websites allowed in China that could broadcast news from other countries and topics deemed ‘sensitive’ or controversial by Beijing. This allowed for open discussion on sensitive subjects without censorship or government approval. In turn, this made Chinese Wikipedia increasingly popular with citizens seeking a platform where they could communicate more freely than traditional media outlets would allow them to do so.

Alongside this increase in popularity came growing interest in controlling the direction Chinese Wikipedia took – with different groups vying for influence over editorial decisions regarding what content is permissible on the website. This battle has continued until today as different factions have sought to either liberalise or restrict access through their interpretations of what is appropriate material to include on Chinese Wikipedia’s database and pages.

wikimedia foundationpasternack fastcompany

Political and cultural context of the battle

The Chinese-language Wikipedia (Chinese Wikipedia) has long been the subject of a political and cultural battle between Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and various Chinese communities worldwide.

The conflict concerns which parties should control content formation in the platform’s articles. This battle has taken place over a period extending from 2005 to the present. Although there have been several unsuccessful attempts to alter content in favour of a certain political orientation, overall there is no clear victor in this battle.

At its centre is an ongoing conflict between Mainland China, which wishes to enforce its “Great Firewall” policy on content hosted on Chinese Wikipedia, and other parties such as Taiwanese organisations promoting free speech, who want to ensure that all opinions can be expressed freely and without censorship. The debate surrounding these regulatory issues has led to significant tension within wikipedia’s editorial community since its founding in 2002. For instance, some articles are blocked in certain geographic regions while others remain unrestricted despite potentially containing sensitive information or statements deemed inappropriate by authoritarian governments. Such disputes have given rise to numerous criticisms from both sides of this conflict concerning matters related to censorship, access control policies and other ethical considerations about online freedom of expression.

The Battle

The battle for control of Chinese Wikipedia is a warning for the open internet. It is a battle between censorship-minded Chinese authorities and those who want to keep Chinese Wikipedia free of government control.

It all started when the Chinese government blocked access to Wikipedia in mainland China in April 2019. Let’s look at how the battle has unfolded and what this could mean for the future of the internet.

wikipedia foundationpasternack fastcompany

The censorship of Chinese Wikipedia

The Wikipedia project in China has long been under scrutiny from the Chinese government, who has taken various steps to restrict parts of its content throughout the years. The Chinese language version of Wikipedia, which is both hosted and maintained in mainland China, was initially blocked as a threat to national security after it launched in 2002. Since then, government agencies have imposed rigorous censorship rules on its content. This has forced editors to heavily edit and remove certain topics related to sensitive political figures and organisations.

Since its inception, administrators have had their privileges curtailed by the government to ensure that no politically controversial information is incorrectly published or spread. Any user discovered carrying out such activities can be subject to disciplinary action or a ban from editing. In addition, censors continuously monitor for inappropriate content on the site and immediately remove anything that does not comply with their guidelines. This has had a significant impact on Chinese Wikipedia as some entries may no longer provide complete or accurate information due to censorship efforts.

In recent years, Google Inc., Apple Inc., and other international companies have faced backlash for taking part in censorship of Chinese Wikipedia by either removing certain entries or blocking certain words relating to sensitive topics from being searched within their platforms in line with Chinese law enforcement efforts. However, despite these attempts at censorship control, many Chinese citizens have been able to circumvent this pressure through virtual private networks (VPNs), allowing them access to the entire library freely without following restriction regulations imposed by the government.

The battle between Chinese authorities and Wikipedia editors

As the Chinese government has aimed to control the content associated with China appearing on the internet, it set its sights on Wikipedia. As a result, this platform has become deeply rooted in Chinese journalism. However, to manage its public image, the Chinese government continues to block access to Wikipedia and implement strict censorship laws. In response, censorship and freedom of expression clash between government authorities and Wikipedia editors in China.

Wikipedia editors attempt to circumvent the censorship by using various tools such as the Tor anonymity network or VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Still, these tools are prone to blocks and other forms of surveillance from third-party entities. Alternatively, Chinese Wikipedia editors have resorted to using nicknames, pseudonyms or foreign language platforms for their anonymous activities to avoid being detected or targeted by China’s censors.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities are working hard to limit access to information online by preventing online news outlets from reporting unapproved stories and circumscribing user communication through social media websites like Twitter and Facebook where public opinion can be voiced freely while netizens remain anonymous.

The war over Chinese Wikipedia is a warning for the open internet

The ongoing war over control of the Chinese Wikipedia is a stark warning of how governments can use censorship to limit access to online content. This battle has been ongoing since 2017, highlighting the potential for governments to limit free speech and the open exchange of information.

In this article, we’ll explore the impact of censorship on Chinese Wikipedia and offer some insight into the potential for governments to limit access to the open internet.

chinese wikimedia foundationpasternack fastcompany

Impact on the open internet

The battle for control of Chinese Wikipedia has the potential to significantly impact the open internet as we know it in China. If censorship measures are enacted, it could further tighten already strict regulations regarding content hosted within China.

This could mean that websites sharing information or news the government does not approve would be blocked or filtered. Additionally, this would stifle the open exchange of ideas and make it impossible for Chinese citizens to access a free version of the encyclopaedia.

Such censorship measures could also lead to self-censorship by Chinese users to stay within government guidelines, restricting user freedom on the internet. Overall, these censorship restrictions have serious implications for user privacy and engagement with online content within China’s digital landscape.

Impact on the Chinese Wikipedia community

The battle for control of the Chinese Wikipedia has brought attention to the community of editors and volunteers that are working to build it. This kind of attention has both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, more contributors have joined the community, bringing additional energy and increased editorial diversity. This can be seen in how topics covered on the Chinese Wikipedia have grown more diverse and balanced over time. However, on the other hand, debates about content in various articles can also turn heated and divided, with personal attacks becoming common in edit wars and page discussions. Thus, while new contributions are welcomed, conflict inside the Chinese Wikipedia community remains an issue that must be solved.

The controversies within Chinese Wikipedia have also affected its ability to attract key partners from academia or industry who can provide support in taking it forward. Since online strikes of editors broke out in 2019 due to disputes between different sides about governance models for Chinese Wikipedia, potential external partners have become more hesitant about investing resources into a platform that appears facing an internal crisis unexpected by any outsiders. Proper regulations and rules must be established soon so as not to harm its sustainable development in the long run.