Twofish's Blog

November 19, 2006

An obsolete post

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 7:26 pm

This post to CHINALAW became obsolete with the wikipedia reblock, but I hope that the contents will still be useful to someone.

——–

Some more thoughts on wikipedia, and why it was unblocked.

First of all, it is clear that is mostly unblocked.  People from the PRC are
reporting no problems getting into most articles, and the number of new user
registrations is increasing by a massive amount (something like 1000 per
day).  In terms of number of users, Chinese wikipedia has moved from 12th to
2nd in a very short time.

It is the case that some politically sensitive URL’s are being blocked, but I
think that is actually a good sign since it means that the unblock was a
policy decision.  One thing is that is the case is that regardless of the
underlying mechanics of the system, the people that are forming internet
policy for China really do understand the medium.

The case of wikipedia is different from blogs and forums in one crucial
respect.  People from inside Chinese government are actually encouraged to
monitor the articles and make edits when they think something needs to be
changed.  I’m pretty certain that the MII has an army of people who are going
to be reviewing the edits and adding their own spin on the articles, and that
is a good thing actually.

The main argument that I think actually influenced people was the point that
the block did nothing to prevent “subversives” from doing the edits, but it
was effectively preventing “Party sympathizers” from participating in
wikipedia.  This isn’t the case with blogs.

The other argument I think influenced people may be that wikipedia is a key
component to the “united front” strategy that the PRC is using to win over
Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Getting people from Mainland China to work with people
from Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas Chinese to create an article which no one
strongly objects to, massively aids in the process of national unification
and constructing a unified Chinese identity.  Even getting to the point where
people can use a common language to describe the nature of the disagreements
is no small thing.

This has ramifications for formal diplomacy since I think that the wikipedia
article on China is going to be the basis for cross-strait talks eventually.

It also has a number of other ramifications…..

First, I think wikis can fundamentally change the way that laws and
regulations are drafted and enforced since it provides a forum for context
and debate.  One of the experiments I’d like to see done is to start an
wikipedia article on the draft anti-monopoly law or the draft property law
and see what happens.

Second, this experience throws open questions about the provision of filtering
technology to China.  One key reason wikipedia was unblocked is that the MII
now has the technological ability to block by keyword and by URL which it
didn’t have in the past, and so it can do article based blocks rather than
site based blocks.  Article based blocks are less objectionable because 1)
you know what is being blocked and 2) it lets most content through.

Third, I suspect that most organizations will start to deal with wikipedia
through the use of interlocutors.  An interlocutor doesn’t represent the
organization or anyone other than themselves, but they have knowledge that
allow them to present the views of an organization.  The fact that an
interlocutor isn’t an agent of the organization is important since it
provides a lot of freedom of action.  What will be really interesting are the
conversations that different interlocutors have with each other.

(One other implication is that the MII might want to reconsider the real
naming system for blogs.  One nice thing about wikipedia is that you can have
someone working in the office of Hu Jintao post edits to wikipedia without
anyone easily figuring out who they are, and five years from now, every
politician will have someone monitoring wikipedia.

Once the MII figures out that having some degree of internet anonymity is
useful for them, they might want to reconsider ending it.)

Finally, the type of articles I’d really like to see posted and translated
aren’t things like “human rights in China” but rather things like legislative
redistricting in Texas or legislative procedure in the Italian senate or how
center-local relations work in Tanzania, constitutional law in Bangledesh,
the taxation system of New York City, or the history of Batman.  The former
usually turns into a useless interaction in which someone is trying to
lecture and someone is trying to avoid being lectured to.

In the latter case, one is just providing information, and its up to the
listener to figure out what that information means, and you can get
surprising information.  I’ve learned more about Chinese nationalism watching
Hungarians and Romanians argue about the history of Transylvania than I ever
would have studying China.  (It’s always useful and a little scary to watch
someone who is very passionate about a topic you don’t have an emotional
attachment.)

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