11 May 2006

Persistent Search for the Ideal? I Think Not

Baidu.com, Google's main rival in China, has launched its own version of Wikipedia (called Baidu Baike). It turns out that Baidu's name is rather poetic. According to the site:

"Baidu" was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one's dream while confronted by life's many obstacles. "…hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood." Baidu, whose literal meaning is hundreds of times, represents persistent search for the ideal.

Alas, neither Baidu nor Baidu Baike show much evidence of that persistent search for the ideal, since they censor great swathes of knowledge. The real, warts-and-all Wikipedia has some details:

According to Baidu Baike's policies, these kinds of articles or comments would be deleted:

1. pornographic or violent articles
2. advertising
3. politically reactionary content
4. personal attacks
5. unethical content
6. malicious, meaningless content

The third point is particularly notable, as the content of the encyclopedia will have to satisfy Chinese government censors. There are no articles about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, "六四" (literaly "six four", a common acronym for the protest), human rights ("人权"), democracy ("民主") or Falungong ("法轮功"). In fact, due to the effects of Great Firewall of China, attempts to search for these terms from some domains lead to denial of access to the Baidu search engine for several minutes, even for users outside China.

The last point is interesting. As this blog posting explains, if you cut and paste the Chinese characters for terribly naughty words like "democracy" (民主) into Baidu,

Not only will you receive no response, but you won’t be able to access the site again for a while. First-hand evidence of censorship.

Maybe we should all give it a whirl to show our unquenchable interest in concepts such as democracy: let's just call it a persistent search for the ideal.

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