Beijing — Chinese students and intellectuals are expressing outrage at Beijing's decision to prohibit access to Wikipedia, the fast-growing on-line encyclopedia that has become a basic resource for many in China.
Wikipedia, which offers more than 2.2 million articles in 100 languages, has emerged as an important source of scholarly knowledge in China and many other countries. But its stubborn neutrality and independence on political issues such as Tibet and Taiwan has repeatedly drawn the wrath of the Communist authorities.
The latest blocking of the website, the third shutdown of the site in China in the past two years, has now continued for more than 10 weeks without any explanation and without any indication whether the ban is temporary or permanent.
"What idiots these officials are!" said one message on a Chinese site. "They are killing our culture with censorship."
Others said the blocking of Wikipedia has been a major blow to their research projects and even to their prospects of passing civil-service exams. "How can I do my thesis now?" a university student asked on another Chinese website.
With some 225 million words of information and 13 million users in the United States alone, Wikipedia has grown at a phenomenal rate in just five years of existence. Last year, it tripled its U.S. readership, and it now ranks No. 35 in popularity among all websites.
Chinese authorities twice blocked the Wikipedia website for several weeks in 2004, apparently because it included articles on banned subjects such as the Taiwanese independence movement, the Tibetan autonomy issue and the Tiananmen Square student protests that were crushed by the Chinese military in 1989.
But those incidents were mere rehearsals for the latest blocking of the website, which began on Oct. 19 and has shown no signs of relenting.
In an appeal to the Chinese authorities, a Wikipedia volunteer in China said the blocking of the website will allow Beijing's enemies to control the flow of information on Wikipedia. (Wikipedia is open to any contributor to create, edit or change an article.) "Such an act is no different from cutting away our own voice and tongue, or shutting our own eyes and ears," the appeal said. "It is isolationism in the age of the Internet."
The Chinese government has gone to extreme lengths to control the Chinese Internet, with thousands of agents employed to monitor it and delete sensitive comments.
At the request of the Chinese government last month, Microsoft Corp. agreed to shut down the journal of a Chinese blogger who was writing about subjects such as a strike by employees of a Beijing newspaper.