Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Wikipedia China: frontline for regional tolerance

A Wikipedia editor from Shanghai was initially infuriated when he came across terms like ‘Taiwan’ and the ‘Republic of China’ on the Web site, but now says he understands how people in Taiwan think, and has become much more tolerant

By Grace Tsoi  /  NY Times News Service, HONG KONG

In one recent squabble, some users insisted on using the flag of the People’s Republic of China to depict the nationality of people from Hong Kong because they reasoned that: “Hong Kong is not a country, so the nationality China (Hong Kong) does not exist,” which upset contributors from Hong Kong.

“Deciding on one’s nationality is not something Wikipedia editors should do,” a commentator going by the name Oneam said. “Editors cannot assume all people have a certain nationality based on the nationality law, especially as some people enjoy dual citizenship.”

When the Chinese-language Wikipedia site was introduced in 2002, there were two versions — one with simplified Chinese characters and one with traditional script. About 10 years ago, the two sites were merged. However, early editors soon found that the new site was mired in conflicts posed by linguistic differences.

The Chinese Wikipedia tried to resolve the issue by introducing language conversion software in 2004 — the only instance in which it is used on a Wikipedia page.

Today, the site has five settings: simplified Chinese for China, orthodox Chinese for Taiwan, traditional Chinese for Hong Kong, traditional Chinese for Macau and simplified Chinese for Singapore and Malaysia.

“This software feature could also be seen as an embodiment of Wikipedia’s neutrality principle, in that it brings together editors from different political systems and enables productive discussion and collaboration between them,” Roth said.

Underscoring the importance of the Chinese Wikipedia site, Wikimania, the annual international conference attended by hundreds of Wikipedia users, was held in Hong Kong in mid-August.

Liao Han-teng (廖漢騰), a Taiwanese researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, said that most Internet forums had a parochial focus, but that Chinese-language Wikipedia offered rare opportunities for those fluent in Chinese to engage in discussion.

“There is some form of integration across the region,” he said. “But that does not mean that mainland China assimilates Taiwan or Hong Kong. Every area stands on the same ground.”

“There was more bickering in the early days, but the discussion matured at a quick pace after 2009,” said Wikimedia Taiwan chairman Chien Hsiang-tai (簡翔泰), 39, who joined the organization eight years ago. “A new generation of editors became active on Chinese Wikipedia in 2009 and they brought new thoughts, too. They were less influenced by political ideologies, so they have better judgments than us.”

Contributors must also comply with the site’s “no original research” principle, which means they cannot include individual opinions in entries.

All the rules and changes have made a difference, users say.

“When I first joined the Chinese Wikipedia, I was an ‘angry youth,’” said Wilson Ye, 17, a Wikipedia editor from Shanghai who started writing entries four years ago. “I was furious when I came across terms like ‘Taiwan’ and the ‘Republic of China,’ but after more interactions, I understand how people in Taiwan think and I become much more tolerant.”

Ye was recently promoted to administrator, which means that he has the authority to lock pages and block users.

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