The Chinese-language version of Wikipedia has become more than an online encyclopedia: It is a battlefield for editors from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in a region charged with political, ideological and cultural differences.
Wikipedia editors, who are all volunteers, present opposing views on politics, history and traditional Chinese culture — in essence, different versions of China. Compounding the issue are language differences. Mandarin is the official language in China and Taiwan, while the majority in Hong Kong speak Cantonese. However, Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional script, while China uses simplified characters.
That has led to articles on otherwise innocuous topics becoming points of contention and has caused controversial entries to be restricted.
For example, the entry on the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing has been subject to “editing wars” since the site was created. Editors have argued over whether it constituted a “massacre,” whether the Chinese People’s Liberation Army suppressed the protests “with force” and if the Beijing authorities had been “hiding the truth.”
Despite Chinese sensitivity on the topic, Wikipedia has not deleted the page or done anything to censor it, the organization said.
“Wikipedia does not comply with the Chinese government’s self-censorship policy. Absolutely not,” said Tango Chan (陳子恩), a representative of Wikimedia Hong Kong, a local chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation.
However, he said that some articles on the Chinese-language Wikipedia site could not be reached because the “Great Firewall” — the censorship tool developed by the Chinese authorities — filtered “sensitive words.”
Stephen Wong, a contributor from Hong Kong who has been active on the site since 2009, said users across the region had experienced “some form of cultural shock,” which set off arguments.
“Users from different areas have received different education and have been influenced by different political ideologies,” he said. “We discovered that the things we learned as a kid were totally different from each other.”
No matter the language, disputes are part of the nature of Wikipedia, Matthew Roth, the global communications manager of the Wikimedia Foundation, wrote in an e-mail.
In April, some users were embroiled in heated arguments over an entry about the encirclement campaigns of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government led by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in the 1930s to purge the communists. In the Chinese-language Wikipedia, the entry is titled “The Chinese Community’s Anti-Siege Wars,” which a Taiwanese user said was biased toward China.
“From the viewpoint of Taiwan, the militant actions against the Nationalist government were equal to riots. If Chinese Wikipedia is accommodating to all stances, it should not only follow that of mainland China,” a contributor using the handle Demonbane wrote, suggesting that “siege wars” was a more neutral term. Another user, identified as Sakamotosan, said the original name should be kept, as neutrality did not exist in history. For now, the original title remains.
Another recurring topic of debate is the nationality of citizens of Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. A new round of emotional discussions came up in August. The issue of Hong Kongers’ nationality is complicated by their eligibility for Hong Kong passports, which grant holders visa-free access to a large number of countries, in sharp contrast with the restrictive Chinese passports.