Last month, China began allowing access to the English version of Wikipedia to Internet users in that country, and the Chinese-language version was unblocked last week. Reports coming from China today indicate that Wikipedia access may have been short lived, as many Chinese ‘Net users say that they can no longer reach the popular site.
At this time, it is not known whether this is an official government effort to nudge Wikipedia out of the reach of Chinese citizens, or whether other issues are causing the site to be unreachable. China has a history of exercising a high degree of control over its citizens’ Internet habits, with the so-called Great Firewall of China blocking access to sites deemed inappropriate by the government.
Once Wikipedia became reachable from within the borders of China, many wondered how long the access would last. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told the Observer in September that the reasons for the ban were unclear to him. "We have internal rules about neutrality and deleting personal attacks [and] we’re far from being a haven for dissidents or a protest site," said Wales. At the same time, Wales promised that Wikipedia would not give in to any government efforts to censor it.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told the AP that China "actively supports and promotes the development of the Internet," saying that she had no information on Wikipedia being blocked. "We manage the Internet in accordance with our laws and regulations," Jiang added.
Western entities looking to operate in China have long had to play by the government’s rules, and the Internet has proven to be no exception. Amnesty International has been critical of Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo for giving into Chinese government demands, and representatives from those and other companies were hauled before a congressional committee in February to explain their actions in China.
Back in June, Google cofounder Sergey Brin said that his company may end up pulling out of China at some point. Google has to play by a set of rules that it is "not comfortable with," said Brin, adding that the decision to do business there was a difficult one that compromised its principles. Wikipedia may be another story, as Wales doesn’t appear interested in bowing to government pressure to change how Wikipedia operates. As a result, Wikipedia availability from within China may be a thing of the past.