Maybe it is an attempt to further stifle free speech, or maybe they really do want “quality content on the web”, but China is all set to launch their own version of Wikipedia next year. Chinese officials say that they have hired over 20,000 people to work on the project that will contain 300,000 entries at about 1,000 words each.
China has been rather apprehensive about Wikipedia, already blocking some of its content. Chinese authorities say that their version of the encyclopedia will be created by selected scholars at state-run universities rather than any volunteer, as is the case with Wikipedia.
The website will be called the Encyclopaedia of China, and as put by Yang Muzhi, the editor-in-chief of the project, it is “not a book, but a Great Wall of culture”. Mr. Muzhi, who also chairs the Book and Periodicals Distribution Association of China, said that Wikipedia is their competitor and they are moving on this project due to the international pressure and societal need for China to have its own platform of guide for the public.
The book “Encyclopaedia of China” was originally published in 1993 in paper form, with its second version coming in 2012. The idea for an online version was sanctioned in 2011, with the work on it starting only recently. But the critics have raised eyebrows on the project, saying that the Government is bound to omit and distort entries for political purposes.
The move will take the state in direct competition with the private online encyclopedias like Baidu and Qihu 360, while further legitimizing their sanctions on Wikipedia’s blocked pages like entries on Dalai Lama and President Xi Jinping.
Taha Yasseri, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute commented,
“The need for information in China makes people use Wikipedia through the usual anti-filtering tools, and this is far from ideal for an authoritarian state. So, this initiative is to attract more users towards the state-approved content.”
Will it be as comprehensive as the real wikipedia? Only time will tell.