Imagine your life without Wikipedia. While for much of the West the idea seems preposterous, thanks to strict online censorship this Wiki-less-world is very much a reality in China. Now, in a bid to catch up, the Chinese government is looking to create its very own online encyclopedia. Imaginatively named the “Chinese Encyclopedia”, the communist government is recruiting 20000 people to help populate the site with over 300000 entries.
Access to Wikipedia is partially banned on the Chinese mainland. Most entries on science and technology can be read, but a search for sensitive keywords such as “Dalai Lama” and “Xi Jinping” will result in the connection to the server being lost.
Employing thousands of scholars to write about more than 100 different disciplines, the ‘Chinese Encyclopedia’ will go online next year, the editor-in-chief of the project, Yang Muzhi who also the chairman of the Book and Periodicals Distribution Association of China, describing it as “a Great Wall of culture”. While Chinese internet companies like Baidu and Qihoo already run their own online encyclopedias, they are far in comparison to Wikipedia. Yet for Muhzi, the goal isn’t to match the Chinese version of the Wikipedia which has over 938000 entries currently – it’s to better it: “We have the biggest, most high-quality author team in the world. Our goal is not to catch up, but overtake.”
Muzhi states that the Chinese encyclopedia aims to promote the country’s scientific and technological developments, promote historical heritage, and strengthen the core values of socialism. Boasting 720 million internet users, China has the world’s largest online population. Yet, ironically, strict censorship laws severely limit what its people can access. With the country employing some of the world’s most advanced censorship technology, President Xi Jinping’s recent calls for nations to work together on developing and governing the internet feel somewhat hollow.
While it’s currently unclear how much influence the government will have over the new ‘Chinese Encyclopedia’ content, given their history and Muhzi’s goals, it’s unlikely to be a bastion of neutrality.