Currently circulating on WeChat news that apparently on May 20, 2015 China blocked Chinese Wikipedia, begging question du jour: just what triggered the block? (This is a serious question, if you know, please share). To date, 16 of the top 30 English language websites have been blocked.
In practice, the only way those of working in China can access non-Chinese sites is to go to non-Chinese servers and use non-Chinese search engines. This decision requires English language skills and familiarity with the organization of English language websites and ALSO a national preference because English language search engines use national algorithms to generate “popular” hits; I tend to go to US American websites, I’m sure others go to Great Britain, Australia, or India. In fact, if search engines only used algorithms that selected for total number of hits, from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli we’d all be calling up Chinese and Indian websites.
In practice, blocking English language servers and sites often seems to be a symbolic gesture rather than an actual block because Chinese netizens who read English fluently enough to browse foreign websites are already using VPNs, even in their offices. More insidiously, I often think that blocking English language websites is an act of global propaganda which is not primarily aimed at Chinese citizens but more generally at the world; anyone who expects to live in and/or work with China must accept the power of the Party to shape the conditions of everyday knowledge, including access to weather reports in your hometown. After all, censorship within the Chinese virtual sphere is conducted with more precision than a flat out block, such that posts and strings can be deleted from functioning sites and servers, bringing us back to the question: why Chinese Wikipedia? Why now?
Chinese Wikipedia allowed Mainland Chinese speakers to see translated posts from the English speaking web as well as from Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, despite the fact that properly Taiwanese sites have long been blocked. On Chinese Wikipedia, it is possible (in simplified Chinese) to read about Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, the Tibetan Independence Movement, and the history of the Nationalist Party from a slightly different perspective than that found on Baidu. Consequently, for those who prefer Chinese language servers and websites the decision to block Chinese Wikipedia is a much more serious issue than blocking English language servers and sites; suddenly it may require a VPN to have access to Chinese language information from foreign sources.