While Wikipedia has always relied on volunteer editors to add and correct content on its site, the Chinese-language version has reportedly been subject to extreme ‘edit wars’ between users from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong due to varying cultural outlooks on matters like politics and ideologies, NY Times reports.
Wikipedia editors, 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 mainland China and Taiwan, while the majority in Hong Kong speak Cantonese. But mainland China uses simplified characters, while Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional script.
That has led to articles on otherwise innocuous topics becoming flash points, and has caused controversial entries to be restricted.
The report uses an entry covering the 1989 Tiananmen Square events as an example.
Editors have argued over whether it constituted a “massacre,” whether the People’s Liberation Army suppressed the protests “with force,” or if the Beijing authorities had been “hiding the truth.”
Wikipedia, however, has not taken the page down or tried to censor it.
“Wikipedia does not comply with the Chinese government’s self-censorship policy. Absolutely not,” Tango Chan, a representative of Wikimedia Hong Kong, said in the report.
Still, some entries on Wikipedia China cannot be accessed by users who are blocked by the Great Firewall, which censors “sensitive words” and events such as those surrounding Tiananmen Square.
“The common perception is that arguments are frequent on Wikipedia, and indeed there are active discussions and disagreements about content, as would be expected in such an enormous and complex information ecosystem” Matthew Roth, the global communications manager of the Wikimedia Foundation, was quoted as saying in the article.
One such topic that is constantly debated is the nationality of citizens of Hong Kong, which recently triggered a feud surrounding use of the flag of the People’s Republic of China to depict the nationality of Hong Kong residents.
In 2004, Chinese Wikipedia introduced language conversion software to the site which now offers five Chinese-language settings for its users.
“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,” Mr. Roth said in the report.
All contributors must still comply to a “no original research”, meaning they can’t add their own opinions into content.
“When I first joined the Chinese Wikipedia, I was an ‘angry youth,”’ said Wilson Ye, a 17-year-old 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.”
According to Isaac Mao, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, more and more users are maturing as they contribute and communicate on the site more frequently.
“It all came back to the ‘five principles’ of Wikipedia, including authenticity, accuracy, neutral point of view and the use of references,” He said.
“If there are disagreements over management and editing, people can engage in discussion based on these principles. Such atmosphere has been built up in the Chinese Wikipedia community gradually.”