The easing of a ban on Wikipedia traffic in China was short-lived.
Barely a week after Wikipedia viewers were able to access the Web site -- after a yearlong ban -- they reported yesterday that it was blocked again in several parts of China.
Chinese Web surfers and free speech advocates had earlier welcomed the apparent lifting of a ban on the English and Chinese versions of the site that provides free information written and edited by its users, although skeptics had voiced fears the end of the ban would be temporary.
"It was great news for us," said Yuan Mingli, 33, a software engineer in Shanghai who has contributed articles on computer science and Chinese historical figures to the site. "China's Internet users are not different from other countries' users. Wikipedia is a very important source of information for us."
It wasn't immediately clear if Wikipedia was inaccessible due to technical glitches or because government censors had blocked the site again.
Beijing blocked access to the English and Chinese versions of Wikipedia in October last year, apparently out of concern about entries touching on sensitive issues -- Tibet, Taiwan and other topics.
China's government has waged a battle to control the Internet and filter the information Chinese can get. Police employ an array of measures, from sophisticated filters and detection software that hunts for sensitive words to having officers monitor Web traffic.
As a result, surfing the Web in China is a very different experience from that in much of the world. Because almost anyone can add to and edit listings in Wikipedia, the site is famously freewheeling, addressing sensitive topics that pose a challenge to Beijing's control.
The site's English version was unblocked last month, while the Chinese version became available late last week, until yesterday when Net users such as Yuan said both versions could not be accessed.
"There are widespread reports of Wikipedia being inaccessible again in China," said Andrew Lih, a Beijing-based researcher who is writing a book about Wikipedia.
Lih said Web users trying to access blocked sites often receive a technical-error message instead of one that says the Web site is being blocked.
Lih said earlier the number of new registered users on the Chinese version of Wikipedia had jumped in the past week to an average of 1,200-1,300 a day -- more than a threefold increase from 300-400 a day before the ban was lifted on or around Nov. 9.
"And that's just the number of registered users. The number of people in China who are reading Wikipedia but don't register is much, much higher," Lih said.
Experts had earlier expressed skepticism over the Chinese government's unannounced lifting of the ban on the popular site, saying it could be only temporary.
Wikipedia contributors such as Yuan said they recalled at least two instances before the ban when censors teased Internet users by sporadically blocking access to the site for weeks at a time.
"In the context of a politically censored environment ... Wikipedia becomes ... also a place to engage, to debate, to share information and to spread information otherwise being forbidden," said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California, Berkeley.
"I am almost certain that much government `undesired' information and discussion will appear on this platform again and that's why I am still concerned about its future in China," Xiao said.