The Chinese government is recruiting 20,000 people to create an online encyclopedia which will act as its very own version of Wikipedia, or as one official put it, like “a Great Wall of culture.”
Known as the “Chinese Encyclopedia,” the country’s national encyclopedia will go online for the first time in 2018, and the government has employed tens of thousands of scholars from universities and research institutes who will contribute articles in more than 100 disciplines. The end result will be a knowledge base with more than 300,000 entries, each of which will be about 1,000 words long.
“The Chinese Encyclopaedia is not a book, but a Great Wall of culture,” Yang Muzhi, the editor-in-chief of the project and the chairman of the Book and Periodicals Distribution Association of China, said. He added that China was under pressure from the international community to produce an encyclopedia that will “guide and lead the public and society.”
The need for an online reference encyclopedia is in part a result of the Chinese government blocking access to Wikipedia. Chinese internet companies like Baidu and Qihoo 360 operate their own online encyclopedias but none are capable of matching Wikipedia in terms of scale and breadth of information.
The aim of the new version of the Chinese Encyclopedia is to showcase China’s latest science and technology developments, promote historical heritage, increase cultural soft power and strengthen the core values of socialism, according to Yang, who said the goal was not just to mimic Wikipedia: “We have the biggest, most high-quality author team in the world. Our goal is not to catch up, but overtake.”
At over 720 million users, China has the world’s largest internet population by some distance, but it also has some of the world’s most restrictive internet laws.
President Xi Jinping has publicly called for greater cooperation among nations to develop and govern the internet, but he and his Communist Party have overseen ever growing efforts to control what information and services Chinese citizens have access to online. The so-called Great Firewall of China is the most sophisticated censorship tool in use anywhere in the world today, blocking the parts of the internet the government deems unsavory.
It is unclear just how much the Chinese government will influence the topics being covered in next year’s edition of the Chinese Encyclopedia, but one of the scholars invited to take part believes the system needs to be updated to reflect the era it is being written in.
“The original system is too outdated,” Professor Huang Annian, a historian currently based in the U.S. said, adding that the new encyclopedia needs to “adapt to the development trend in 21st century, respect history and face the future. I think it is necessary to emphasize the globalization of the world economy, political democracy and cultural diversity.”