Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-10-31/Community view

Observations from the mainland: A different point of view

Yan is a resident of the People's Republic of China and an administrator on the Chinese Wikipedia -S

I'm currently in Beijing, finishing a meetup of the Wikimedians of mainland China with over 50 attendees. I'm not writing as the group's official representative, but in some ways I may be fairly typical of an experienced member. As an admin on the Chinese Wikipedia I perform regular maintenance. I've written about China's internet backbones, explaining China's censorship policies and related problems. Other mainland Chinese Wikimedians are working on articles on local histories and monuments – something that desperately needs more contributions.

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.

— The Wikimedia Foundation

Let me break down the WMF's commitment into two.

Every single human being can freely share?

“Freely sharing" means both "reading" and "writing". Free knowledge will never be read by its intended audience if we do not distribute it. We need to take government censorship more seriously and consider how to best react to it.

"Every single human being" includes Chinese mainlanders. Yet the WMF's policies are more responsible for denying access to China than the Chinese government is. One example is the "IP block exempt" user flag. Only with this flag can someone use a proxy (VPN) to access Wikipedia. Since all language versions of Wikipedia are blocked in China, proxies are the only way to read or edit Wikipedia. All mainland Chinese Wikimedians must have this flag, and it has to be added by admins on a case-by-case basis. But the WMF removed local checkuser rights on the Chinese Wikipedia, which has since increased stewards' workloads on Meta, making the "IP block exempt" problem even worse for us.

Barring innocent contributors is definitely not what “every single human being" should mean.

The WMF sued the Turkish government for blocking Wikipedia, but it hasn't done anything about censorship in China. We pay for our own VPNs; we pay for our own meetups; but we've received nothing from the WMF's US$100 million annual budget.

The sum of all knowledge?

There are few mainland China-related articles on Wikipedia. The contributors are roughly equally divided among Hongkongers, Taiwanese, and mainlanders. This means with the same number of editors, mainland contributors cover a geographic area and population dozens of times larger than those of the other two. The upshot is that the articles of many large mainland cities are not as detailed as a town in Taiwan. A city like Beijing, with about the same population as Australia, has only one or two dozen active contributors.

There are double standards on notability. A bus line in Hong Kong can have its own dedicated article, but in the mainland city of Yuhuan, with a population of 400,000, the single active contributor is focusing on local articles and has difficulty meeting notability criteria.

So the WMF's "Imagine a world" statement makes little sense in China. It sounds like a propaganda slogan to me – something like the American dream or the Chinese dream, or the Communist party propaganda I see on the street.


The WMF's advocacy doesn't help. People in communities without good English-language skills are the ones most likely to be forgotten. We encyclopedia-writing nerds don't care about those slogans either. We just want somewhere to contribute real solid content.

What has happened in China contradicts the WMF's slogans. China allows uncensored information to be accessed by the privileged few, instead of the masses. The "privileged few" are mostly scholars, college students, people who received higher education, and politicians making policies. That's why we’re saying: "Wikipedia has been blocked in mainland China" instead of "Wikipedia has been banned in mainland China." There are no laws to explicitly ban Wikipedia and its activities, though the site itself has been blocked. But Wikipedia is well-known by those with higher education, and their views on the site are quite the opposite of how people think of Wikipedia in the West, where most people treat Wikipedia as a valuable source academically, instead of trying to stop Wikipedia from academic uses. Beijing doesn't care if just a few people know about things like the Tiananmen Square protests.

As ordinary mainland contributors, we care more about preserving the present and past for future generations. Motivations for contributing to Wikipedia are different for different editors, but this one is important among mainlanders. When the day China regains access to Wikipedia, we don't want to see there is almost nothing about China when we get there.

International relations

China has had a troubled history with some countries, but we don't care about ancient history. Let's take the current senseless Sino-American trade war. Neither the trade war nor the Communist party’s propaganda make Chinese people hate Americans, though it does make us think that some Americans, especially Donald Trump, are jerks. I don't think there is even a need for increased understanding between Chinese Wikimedians and those from the Western hemisphere, since there is little interference and distrust between us. What genuinely alienates Chinese and Westerners are modern-day political problems, biases developed through media exposure and education (Westerners included), and a post-Cold War residue of ideological disputes. Abandoning such political squabbling and focusing on WMF projects is what we should be doing.


There are 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China, with Han being the largest, at over 90% of the population. Mainland editors have never surveyed ourselves by ethnicity or gender, but based on what I personally know, there are Zhuang, Manchu, and Korean-Chinese editors. Han's percentage is higher than 90%, as many ethnic minority groups live in underdeveloped western parts of China, lacking access to the internet and the awareness required to use Wikipedia.

Political diversity is another question. This is one reason I’m unable to speak for our user group as a whole. We have members who are pro-Beijing and others who are pro-democracy. The whole group doesn't agree on a single political statement, but everybody's fine letting me speak for myself.

Wikimedians of mainland China

An official Wikimedia User Group China (WUGC) was recognized by the Affiliation Committee in 2014 but stopped accepting new members when the Chinese Wikipedia was blocked by China in May 2015. Their public activities since then have been extremely rare.

Unhappy with the situation, another group of mainland Wikimedians, including me, created a new user group in early 2017, naming ourselves "Wikimedians of Mainland China User Group" (WMCUG). The founding members started the Shanghai bi-weekly meetup, the most frequent regular meetup in mainland China ever. Most currently active mainland Chinese Wikimedians are already our members or at least pro-WMCUG.

A law came into effect in China in 2017, barring foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the WMF, from carrying out activities in China. How to establish a formal branch of the WMF in China is a large topic we can deal with later. But at this moment, we are the de-facto user group representing mainland China. Because of the new law, we won't bother getting recognition from the Affiliation Committee for awhile.

For related coverage, see: In focus and Interview

As usual, we welcome polite commentary from our readers in the section below. Yan has requested direct questions to him from readers be set aside at the top of the comments section, with the understanding that he may not be able to respond within 24 hours for technical reasons.