Freedom of information once again is threatened in China as the Wikipedia owner confirms that the online encyclopedia is no longer accessible in that country. The reason behind it boils down to one of the most sensitive anniversaries in China — the June 4 Tiananmen protest.
The Open Observatory of Network Interference, an Internet censorship initiative, reported China’s move to ban Wikipedia in all languages on May 4. Wikipedia was never given an official reason as to why the website was blocked by the Chinese government using the Great Firewall. The company confirmed through internal traffic reports that the site had been blocked since April.
Before the ban, the encyclopedia was available for Chinese netizens to access in all languages except for their native language. Though Wikimedia Foundation was a month late to detect the ban, Chinese netizens caught wind of the censorship early on. Many had suspicions about it and complained about the ban on social media.
Authorities in the Cyberspace Administration of China have not given their statement yet, but the foundation hopes that such action will be lifted in the future. “We regret the Chinese authorities’ decision to further limit internet freedom and urge them to restore access to Wikipedia,” the organization said in a statement (CNBC).
The reason behind the ban: Tiananmen protests
It is often a custom of the officials to increase censorship during sensitive anniversaries in China. The reason behind the online community-driven encyclopedia’s total ban is because of the upcoming anniversary of the Tiananmen protests.
The event is a witness to one of the darker days in Chinese history. Also known as the June 4th Incident, it refers to a series of protest marked by the growing unrest among Chinese citizens for political and economic reform. Since the death of Hu Yaobang, a CCP general secretary in the 1980s who encouraged democratic reforms, students joined forces to demand the state to change its political stance into a democratic government.
All eyes were on China as people of the country went hand-in-hand to call for a radical change, fighting tooth and nail against state oppression. However, on the night of June 3 and 4, the government issued a more drastic measure to its heavily armed troops — shoot those who oppose and crush people who stand in their way to Tiananmen Square. The Western media labeled the gruesome event as a massacre, as hundreds were killed and thousands were wounded.
In order to reduce its significance, the Chinese government has downplayed the incident as much as possible. With the anniversary fast approaching, the government must have decided to shut down Wikipedia so that people don’t know much about the protestor massacre.
There may also another reason why Wikipedia was shut down — a national encyclopedia created by Chinese scholars for its citizens. Hailed as China’s first digital book of “everything,” Chinese Encyclopedia is China’s largest publication project to date, authored by thousands of scholars from universities and research institutes. “The Chinese Encyclopedia is not a book, but a Great Wall of culture,” Yang Muzhi, the project’s editor-in-chief said in a statement (South China Morning Post).
The Chinese government hasn’t released an official statement explaining why Wikipedia was banned. But one thing is for sure — such bans are definitely a way to censor information that is deemed harmful to the communist rule.