It will be free. It will be uniquely Chinese. It will be an online encyclopedia to rival Wikipedia — but without the participation of the public.
Academics and experts hand-picked by Beijing to work on the project have said only they would be able to make entries — the latest example of the Chinese government’s efforts to control information available on the Internet.
The academics said truth is their guiding light, and their editing and review process is a rigorous one.
If there is a difference of opinion, a committee should figure it out, said Zhang Baichun (張柏春), chief editor of the history of science and technology section of the Chinese Encyclopedia.
“Of course, science does not come from democratic votes, to convince others you will have to present the most convincing proof,” he told reporters.
The effort to compile 300,000 entries that span science, literature, politics and history is being led by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Propaganda Department, which guides public opinion through instructions to China’s media, Internet companies and the publishing industry, as well as overseeing the education sector.
It has instructed the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House, known for its off-line Encyclopedia of China (中國大百科全書), to produce it.
The CCP has struggled to manage public opinion in the Internet age, when citizens can comment on news and topics of outrage and post photographs of protests on social media — at least until such messages are scrubbed away or rendered unsearchable by censors.
China also regularly blocks overseas sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and has periodically blocked Wikipedia’s English and Chinese-language versions.
Encyclopedia of China Publishing House senior editor Jiang Lijun on Thursday said that they plan to have entries on political leaders, the history of the CCP and subjects such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the EU.
The Chinese Encyclopedia is to focus primarily on entries that are less likely to change as opposed to recent events, and with academic value, “while also trying to strike a balance between that, being timely and what people are searching for,” she said.
She declined to comment on how events that are politically sensitive in China, such as the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, would be treated.
Beijing-based independent media analyst Qiao Mu (喬木) said the Chinese Encyclopedia would be “quite different” from Wikipedia because of the need to toe the line on political taboos.
“If it’s not blocked in China, the publisher must accept censorship, either self-censorship or censored by authorities,” he said.
He said the encyclopedia would likely present a single, official version of sensitive historical events, and exclude items such as the Tiananmen incident and the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group, which “never exist on the Internet.”
The publishing house is paying 20,000 scholars and experts from universities and research institutes to write entries, which are slated to go online next year.
Jiang said that initially the encyclopedia would just be in Chinese, but they are also doing research to see how viable an English version would be.
Wikipedia is edited and maintained by hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world, and has more than 40 million articles encompassing nearly 300 languages. More than 900,000 entries are in Chinese, compared with more than 5 million in English.
“There is Chinese content on Wikipedia too, but sometimes it is not as accurate as it could be,” Jiang said.
“But we try to eliminate self-promotion and inaccuracy as much as possible,” she added.
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