I was pleased to learn today (via Jeremy Goldkorn) that China has chosen to unblock WikiPedia. Andrew Lih theorizes the reason for the unblock is that WikiPedia is value neutral, and the Chinese government is glimpsing the constructive power of the read/write web. He writes:
I believe it was because of the argument Jimmy Wales and fellow Chinese Wikipedians have consistently put forth â€” Wikipedia has a neutral point of view at its core, with no activist or subversive agenda to the site. In the end, I believe consensus among the authorities determined the benefits of Wikipedia far outweigh the risks, and signals their understanding of the beneficial nature of the emerging read-write Web.
This is good news. How many of our school districts block access to WikiPedia? Hopefully not many. Unfortunately, I know many US schools DO block access to Flickr and other read/write web sites. Some districts (my own included) have mandated a wholesale block on all blogs, by decree of the school board. The fact that the Chinese government (an organization generally regarded as even more authoritarian than most US schools) has unblocked it bodes well for many fronts, not the least of which is open access to the world of ideas for the Chinese people.
Participation of the Chinese people in the read/write web should get our attention. Consider this graph of Chinese Flickr users since the site was unblocked in October/November 2006:
Lest we misunderstand and think that perhaps the Chinese government has suddenly realized the great fun people can have with digital photography on sites like Flickr, Andrew Lih points out there is likely a strong economic case for Chinese participation in the read/write web:
The complete argument goes like this: With Wikipedia blocked, China suffers because its ranks of knowledge workers cannot access the top reference site in the world, and the world suffers from not having Chinaâ€™s expertise and input in Wikipedia. Sound familiar? This is a direct example of Wikipedia as the ultimate implementation of what Lawrence Lessig calls â€œread-writeâ€ culture. China wants to read it, the world wants China to write to it.
My main question is, can people in China access ALL the articles in WikiPedia, including the article on “The Tank Man?” Back in April I wrote a post titled “Censored for Relevance,” and included some thoughts on an outstanding PBS Frontline special on “The Tank Man.” It was disturbing to learn at that time that many Chinese university students did not know who the tank man was, and had never heard of him before. Will WikiPedia access in China change this situation? I hope so.
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