by Lu Zu
September 13th, 2021 — this is a day that will be remembered by all Chinese Wikimedians.
For unfounded reasons, the Wikimedia Foundation imposed “global lock” on several Chinese Wikimedians, including members and liaisons of the WMC, and removed the administrator and administrative rights of many more Wikimedians. This decision was hastily made by the Foundation at the instigation of a small group of people in the Chinese Wikimedia community without proper investigation, without community input, and without any basis for believing the slanderous words of that same group of people.
The Foundation’s decision to take action at this time is not accidental. The Foundation has torn off its mask of hypocrisy and revealed its fangs to us, as well as the entire mainland Chinese community. After the Foundation’s decision was released, the perpetrators of this farce celebrated that their biggest imaginary rival, the Wikimedians of Mainland China User Group (WMC), had been knocked off — just as they had been four years ago when the Foundation globally locked Shouwangzhe Aimeng.
Many accuse the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party for blocking foreign websites and suppressing Wikipedia’s development in China. But the Foundation has accomplished something that the Chinese government didn’t manage to do — the Chinese government has never stopped us from organizing meetups and activities; the Chinese government also has never declared this university club-like organization as an “illegal association.” Moreover, the number of Wikimedian who have been arrested, threatened, or in any way obstructed by the Chinese government to contribute the projects, to this day, is zero; yet the Foundation silenced 7 and desysoped many more in just a single day.
We were doing the most laborious and arduous work in China, a country where Wikipedia is not even accessible, while managed to grow the community to its current size. Yet, nowadays, it’s the Foundation that threatens and disservices them.
The Foundation clearly learned its lesson when Fram, an administrator of the English Wikipedia, was blocked from the project by the Foundation in 2019, while Fram’s administrator flag was removed in English Wikipedia. This caused an uproar in the English Wikipedia community at the time. The Foundation never dreamed that the community would react so strongly to the actions taken on Fram. As it turned out, the Foundation may have had a PR team for dealing with external problems, but they didn’t realize that their own community was the one that needed some PR’ing the most. It took the Foundation over a month to put out the fires from the community. Even though the majority of the English Wikipedia community objected to the Foundation’s action on the community, the Foundation refused to budge: Fram, who had his administrator privileges removed for unfounded reasons, was never restored as an administrator in the community even after weeks of protests.
We know many people in the community care about us, who want Wikipedia’s block to be lifted in China, who want the Wikimedia movement to grow in China, who recognize the efforts and sacrifices the WMC has made for the development of the Chinese Wikimedia movement, or at the very least, who believe that the Foundation should not have banned so many administrators overnight and without any warning. You may still have illusions that the Foundation might be able to admit their mistake or to retract their decision. Dear friends: the truth may disappoint you. We are also, just like you, hoping tonight is just a nightmare, and everything will be able to resume normal when we wake up the next morning. However, I’m here to give you a precautionary note: cast away your illusions, and prepare for struggle.
Appearatnaly learning from the Fram incident, the Foundation has accompanied the office actions with a statement that attempts to legitimize their unjustified actions before the community have time to react. This statement, by Maggie Dennis, who is in charge of Community Development at the Foundation, also officially sounds the death knell for the Wikimedia movement in mainland China under the leadership of the Foundation — I’m not saying here that the Wikimedia movement is dead in China, I’m saying that the Wikimedia movement under the leadership of the Foundation is dead.
The Wikimedia movement is much richer than the Foundation as an organization: it is about copyright-free, respecting the copyright of others, sharing, treating everyone with courtesy, and so on. They are the reasons why many mainland Wikipedians defected from Baidu Baike and joined Wikipedia instead. Wouldn’t you like to have an entry on Wikipedia for every single historical site and monument in China? Don’t you want China’s space center to release their pictures under Public Domain, just like America’s NASA? Don’t you want to use your own keyboard to document your own hometown and your own profession? This is the purpose and the original intention of us contributing to Wikipedia, and this is the connotation of the Wikimedia movement. On the other hand, the Foundation should only be a handyman, helping to fix the server. The Foundation has hardly helped the development of the wiki community in mainland China in any way. Our meetups, our “edit-a-thon” s, and our “Wiki Loves China” photo uploading campaign are all our own efforts, and we don’t take any money from the Foundation. We don’t owe anything to this organization, which believes itself to be superior to the volunteers; we will continue our struggle, and naturally, we don’t need anything to do with them. Rather, we can certainly thrive without the shackles from the Foundation. We will continue to thrive with the true spirit of the Wikimedia movement; while the Wikimedia Foundation, as an organizaton itself, is not a necessity for the development of the Wikimedia movement.
Mainland China, arguably the most unique place to develop Wikimedia, also faces the most unique pressures. Our first priority is to ensure that mainland Wikipedians have proper access to Wikipedia and the right to edit. With the help and support of WMC, we helped increase the deliverability of Wikipedia’s system emails to Tencent QQ recipients, we provided free VPNs and mirror sites, we pushed policy change to relax the requirements for applying for IP Block Exemptions (IPBE), and created tutorials on the usage of VPNs and applying for IP Block Exemptions. We also hosted countless meetups and edit-a-thons.
: Tencent QQ is an instant messaging app made by Chinese internet giant Tencent. The email service that comes with QQ, ended by @qq.com, is very popular among Chinese users. There used to have a delivery problem for emails from the Foundation’s servers to @qq.com.
: What most mainland Chinese uses are not actual “VPNs,” but proxy protocols more suitable to bypass China’s censorship. We use “VPN” in the translation for easier understanding.
: A mirror site, as its name suggests, is a replica of the Foundation’s original sites. Since a mirror site uses different domains and IP addresses that are not blocked by China, it could remain accessible without using VPNs, hence more convenient and will improve editors’ engagement.
We have done a lot of down-to-earth work for the mainland community. However, the Foundation has never shown any compassion or support for us. In 2015, when the Chinese Wikipedia was first blocked, WMC was not yet established, so let’s skip it; in 2019, when all languages of Wikipedias were blocked in China, the Foundation issued a pointless statement claiming that they “condemn” the Chinese government for blocking Wikipedia. However, did the Foundation do anything meaningful other than issuing that useless statement? Nothing. We bought VPNs from our own pockets, the mirror site is hosted on our own server, you only make the “IP Block Exemption” situation worse, and finally, you are also preparing to enable something called “IP masking,” which will make it more difficult for administrators to distinguish between proxy IP addresses and normal IP addresses, therefore making it more difficult to edit from a proxy. In addition, if Wikipedia in mainland China is really as dangerous as what Maggie suggested in her statement, then I suppose that isn’t it is going to push mainland Chinese Wikimedians into a more dangerous situation if the Foundation publicly “condemns” the Chinese government and potentially angers them? We are doing the most “dangerous” work in China, while the Foundation wants to destroy our community and our user group.
Some of you may be thinking, “Since WMC has been pretty much branded as an ‘illegal organization’ by the Foundation, and its reputation is damaged, why don’t I just create a new one?” You are too naive. The Foundation has never been clear on its attitude towards developing Wikimedia movement in mainland China (or even giving any help to mainland users). But in Maggie’s statement, the Foundation’s attitude might have been revealed — they want to give up on China. In the statement, Maggie said:
With respect to the desysopping, we hope to connect with the international Chinese language community in the near future to …… ensure that people are and feel safe contributing to the Chinese language Wikipedia.
See? That’s the only thing in Maggie’s statement that’s even remotely relevant to the future of the mainland community (other than formulaic, polite words). The WMF wants to abandon China, that’s it. The WMF may have some grand ambitions of its own, such as “to be the infrastructure of free knowledge” and the like, but for China, which has one-fifth of the world’s population and one-fourth of the world’s internet users, the Foundation has no vision for its development. They just gave up. I don’t want to talk about the consequences of letting overseas Chinese who are only there to create piles of G13-able entries, but isn’t it worth just talking about the abandonment of mainland China on its own? I don’t know whether Maggie was suggesting that the reason for “it is dangerous to contribute in China” was the Chinese government’s blockade on Wikipedia, or because of the existence of the WMC being a “gang” that scares people off. For the former, I hope that the Foundation will immediately withdraw the statement that “condemns” the Chinese government; for the latter, I hope that Wikimedians who have attended our WMC meetings will come forward and tell us whether it is safe to attend WMC meetups or not, and when someone says, “I don’t want to join WMC. I would like to stay independent”, did anyone give him a hard time?
: G13 is the speedy deletion code for machine translation on Chinese Wikipedia.
The Foundation has given up on mainland China. They don’t care about our community. I don’t know what the Foundation’s 2030 plan is, and I don’t know where the Steering Committee is going to steer the ship, but it certainly seems to be “as far away from China as possible.” China’s NGO Law has clear procedures for the Foundation setting up branches, and there is also private non-commercial organization, etc., that we could be legally registered. Despite all the possibilities, the Foundation simply gave up without even trying. The whole world was shocked when Google announced that they were going to quit the Chinese market in 2009, because Google, just gave the Chinese government their middle finger; by contrast, the Wikimedia Foundation announced its withdrawal from China in 2021 with its core content sandwiched in the middle of a statement that didn’t even dare to admit it explicitly.
I hope Maggie will come out and refute that my interpretation of her statement is wrong. Please come out and tell us how we are going to develop the Wikimedia movement in mainland China in the future, and tell us if the Foundation is going to give up mainland China just because Wikipedia is blocked there. So that, our successor after the fall of the WMC, will at least be able to avoid few obstacles.
There is a lot to say in Maggie’s statement. Due to space and time constraints, I will continue to talk about this in our next few open letters. However, there are two other points that I must make in this first open letter after the incident to set the record straight. One is that Maggie’s statement desperately tries to belittle WMC’s status by repeatedly using the term “unrecognized user group” and even “unrecognized group” from the beginning to the end of the statement, in order to emphasize that WMC is not recognized by the Foundation’s Affiliation Committee (AffCom). The wording used in Maggie’s statement is highly confusing and gives the impression that we the WMC is a bootleg.
I need to stress that the WMC is far more active than many, if not more than half, of the Foundation’s recognized user groups. This year alone, we have had several online edit-a-thons and four public meetups all across China, from Beijing to the north and Shenzhen down the south. The reason why we are not recognized is that we have never formally applied for AffCom’s recognition. According to the Foundation’s rules, a user group can be recognized if it has three or more members and has been active for one year. WMC has roughly 300 members and has been active for more than four years — far enough to get recognized by the AffCom. We did not apply for AffCom recognition because China’s NGO Law restricts that we may be considered a branch of the Foundation and thus cannot conduct activities in China once we are recognized. In other words, we are intentionally not getting recognized by the AffCom. However, when we discussed with AffCom between 2017 and 2018 whether there was a way to waive the “you have to be recognized user group before moving on to anything else” requirement, our negotiations with the AffCom were a mess. The AffCom routinely didn’t write back our emails for weeks, and the experience was extremely bureaucratic — we assume that it was partly because there was still another user group called “Wikimedia User Group China” (WUGC), a dead user group that had been occupying the seat of a recognized user group in China but was never active, and partly because of the complexity of the Chinese situation — they were too lazy to look into China’s NGO Law, so they just pretend they didn’t read our emails, and kicking the can down the road. In the end, we gave up communicating with AffCom due to our frustrating experience, and instead turned our attention to community developments by carrying out activities such as meetups instead of asking for AffCom’s recognition.
This is why I think that, the Foundation, instigated by several few in the community, finally went after the WMC is actually good news for us — we finally got rid of our relationship with the Foundation. We could finally cast away all our illusions about the Foundation and turn our attention to actually developing the Wikimedia movement in mainland China. In order to set up a branch of the Wikimedia Foundation in mainland China in accordance with China’s NGO Law, we have to ask for, let’s say, the Foundation’s certificate as a registered non-profit in the US, among other paperwork. Judging from the weeks it took us to get a reply from the AffCom, how long do we have to wait? We were caught in the middle of the Chinese government and the Wikimedia Foundation, and we had to somehow make both sides happy: we need to meet the Foundation’s criteria such as “user groups must be established for one year” and “user groups must be recognized before they can apply to get upgraded to chapters;” meanwhile, we also have to provide the Chinese government the paperwork that they want. Now, since we are no longer expecting the Foundation to do anything for us, we can choose whatever legal structure under the Chinese government that we prefer.
This is one of the reasons why we have a problem with the Foundation and the AffCom. Because so far, the one who has been inefficient, bureaucratic, and refused to provide the papers, was the Foundation; while the Chinese government has never harassed us. We would like to blame the Chinese government for obstructing us from running a Wikimedia group with their NGO Law, but the problem is that, if the Foundation doesn’t even give us the papers, we wouldn’t even have a chance to get denied by the Chinese government. If our plan to set up a branch, chapter, etc., had been rejected by the Chinese government, we would have accepted that at least we tried, and we wouldn’t have been so hostile to the Foundation.
Another thing in Maggie’s statement that we must point out right now is that the statement refers to what we at WMC are doing on the Chinese wiki as “community capture.”
But the problem is, I still don’t understand how we managed to “capture” the community. “Community capturing” was one of the main accusations against WMC in Maggie’s statement. The way I understand “community capturing” is that we, the WMC, are in charge of the whole community, and that we are “canvassing” the elections (the word “canvassing” repeatedly appears in Maggie’s statement and in “warning emails” from people who were “warned” by the Foundation with the global bans and desysopped).
First of all, thanks to the Foundation for praising us. We never dreamed we’d be able to dominate the community. Before Chinese Wikipedia was blocked by mainland China in 2015, the last available statistics showed that the Chinese wiki was roughly evenly divided among mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, each accounting for about one-third of the editors and visitors. The full name of our WMC is “Wikimedians of Mainland China,” so please explain how we managed to get sockpuppets out of nowhere, somehow win a majority and managed to capture the community? I can’t think of any way the WMC is able to do this. I was in a hurry to compose this open letter, so I didn’t have time to research deeper, but if my memory serves, the number of the “neo-Nazis” editors in Croatian must be more than half, right?
The Foundation (and the few in the community who instigated this shenanigan) are still making the same old accusations that they have been using against the WMC for a long time. They thought the reason why the WMC didn’t refute their accusations, was that the WMC must be the evil guy. However, the true reason why we didn’t refute, was that we don’t think their conspiracies deserve our time to refute. The accusations of “canvassing” against WMC in Maggie’s statement are pure nonsense. For starters, vote “canvassing” has long been acceptable under Chinese Wikipedia guidelines (as long as the canvassing isn’t threatening), and was only officially banned earlier this year — how did the Foundation impose global bans on something that was considered acceptable by local guidelines? Furthermore, what proof do you have that canvassing actually did occur? Because of irregular voting results? How about I show you a few examples of vote canvassing by other user groups and chapters in the Chinese community that we, the WMC, considers canvassing? (Save that for the coming open letters.) Maggie’s statement and some in the community accusing the WMC of vote canvassing is so relatable, it’s just like they were those extreme Trump supporters in last year’s US presidential election. At the time, they were screaming “Stop the steal!” at polling stations because they dislike the outcome of the election. They thought the voting results were irregular and suspicious, only because Biden won those states. But the irony of using this metaphor is that, the mob that broke into the US Capitol building on January 6th actually succeeded, and Trump was re-elected.
As it turns out, those people who have been cheerleading for democracy are the most anti-democratic of all. In their eyes, it’s only democratic when the vote goes their way; when a candidate they dislike won the election, they want to “stop the steal.”
The administrators who were desysoped and globally banned were elected fair and square through a democratic process. Some of them had served as administrators for several years, and then the Foundation came out of nowhere and removed desysoped them. Is the Foundation saying that these elections which took place several years ago were unfair? Why is the Foundation didn’t desysop them until now? Has the Foundation seen evidence of the use of sockpuppets and meatpuppets? Why did the Foundation only desysop them, but not global ban them? Is it because they are “close, but not too close” to the WMC? In that case, what is the practical purpose of removing their access? Is it to force them to have another “fair” election again?
The Foundation and the people who started this brouhaha can make up whatever evidence they want about our canvassing, harassment, etc. They may claim that they only target the WMC and users who are closely associated with it according to their non-transparent criteria. But no matter what they claim, the real target they are actually aiming, is the mainland Chinese community as a whole, instead of the user group WMC. Whoever stands up against them will be demolished. I know that many in the community disagree with the WMC, but what I am going to say is regardless of whether you support the Chinese government or how you feel about the WMC. If you are a person of conscience, you will not agree with what the Foundation is doing:
Firstly, the Wikimedia Foundation has an annual budget of $100 million. In at least the last five years, the Foundation has never spent a single penny on mainland China. Although China’s NGO Management Law states that the WMF cannot fund activities in China, the WMF has also never helped mainland Chinese editors with VPNs, tutorials, mirror sites, or any other tools that can be implemented outside of China, thus not violating the NGO Law, to facilitate their editing (you may have heard that Google, Microsoft, and other companies have builtin VPNs in their Chinese subsidiaries); the Foundation has never initiatively adjusting its servers so that they can bypass the Chinese blockade; nor has the Foundation made any changes to the MediaWiki software to improve its procedures so that editors can contribute easier via a proxy server. Although the Foundation has quite a few lawyers, they are probably too busy raising funds or dealing with American politicians. This is because, to our knowledge, the Foundation has never hired a lawyer looking into China’s NGO Law to discover if there is a viable path that allows the community to exist while remaining legally compliant. Let me repeat: The Foundation’s annual budget is $100 million. Zero dollars of that is spent on the mainland Chinese community. If the Foundation is actually a non-profit that struggles to get by, we won’t complain; but sitting on a $100 dollars-per-year budget, willing to pay cellular data packages for third-world participants for Wikimania this year, while paying nothing for VPNs for the mainland Chinese, is unethical.
: Despite leaving China in 2009, Google still has a subsidiary in mainland China mostly managing advertisement-related affairs. Google and Microsoft’s subsidiaries in China are known for having a “VPN” of the sort built in their cooperate networking.
: The Foundation can proactively dodge China’s censorship by modifying its own server configuration. Some websites blocked by China do just that.
Secondly, knowing that Wikipedia is being blocked and mainland Chinese editors may see difficulties contributing, while there is some user group called “WMC” that is very active but not yet recognized by AffCom. The contact information of the WMC has also been publicly available on the Meta-Wiki page. They must have known our existence for a long time. However, while the Foundation is superficially and pretentiously “concerned” about us mainlanders (just read Maggie’s statement and the remarks made by Foundation employees in public while they don’t need to be held responsible for what they are saying), they have never actually “concerned” about mainlander through anything but useless statements. We at WMC have never received any emails from the Foundation or AffCom asking if we need any help. We haven’t even received an email saying, “Hey, this is the Foundation. I heard Wikipedia is blocked in China. Are you guys doing okay?”
Thirdly, users who use VPNs to edit the Wikimedia projects may encounter a bug commonly known in the Chinese community as “auto logout,” which we suspect may be related to the handling of proxy IPs in cross-wiki blocks and the usage of cross-site cookies. We roughly estimate that this bug affects one-fifth of mainland Chinese newcomers. This bug prevents any newly registered user from saving their edits — the system will log them out every time they click the “save changes” button, hence the name. Although this bug has been reported to Phabricator, the Foundation’s bug-tracking tool, for a year and a half already, but the Foundation’s technical staff hasn’t even looked into it — it’s still in the stage of “need triage,” the first step of any bug reports.
Fourthly, as of right now, when I’m writing these words, twelve hours had passed since the first batch of Office Actions. In these twelve hours, through my own investigation and other users’ reports, the Foundation didn’t reach out to any of the users who got banned, desysoped, or warned prior to their action. Let me reiterate that: the Foundation didn’t reach out to the people who get banned to listen to their explanations. They just outright ban with no advanced notice or hearing the defendants. I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care how you conduct your so-called “investigation” — you don’t have any solid evidence, you don’t even give people a chance to explain or debate, you are just covering up as much as you can. The Foundation does not consider whether there is a conflict of interest between the WMC and the people who “report” and submit the so-called “evidence,” such as whether their political ideology is pro-Hong Kong independence extremist, pro-Taiwan independence extremist, or anti-communist, all group who would like to see the WMC, which officially politically neutral, but it’s members are generally pro-Beijing or okay-with-Beijing, to collapse. I need to point out that those who got banned and desysoped are better at writing actual encyclopedia entries and anti-vandalism than at gossiping and tattling.
Fifthly, according to the ranking of administrator activity on XTools and my rough calculations, among the top 30 most active administrators on Chinese Wikipedia (excluding bots), 10 of them are either banned or desysoped. That’s one-third of them! And among the top ten, 4 are banned or desysoped. The most active administrator on Chinese Wikipedia, nicknamed “Chung Chung Fei” from Hong Kong, outnumbering all other administrators in activeness, was globally banned. Tell me, what are you going to do about this mess? The Chinese Wikipedia is not a small project, it has a lot of administrative work to do and often backlogs. What are you going to do about it? Have you actually researched it before you started banning and desysopping? Have you ever considered the consequences?
In the end, I think there must be some newbies, especially those who have just made a few dozens or several hundreds of edits, who would like to ask: “If the Foundation is so hostile to the mainland Chinese community, what’s the point of me keep contributing to Wikipedia?”
What I want to tell you is: you are the future of the mainland Chinese community. We write Wikipedia instead of Baidu Baike, because we agree with Wikipedia’s idea of sharing and openness. You write it for your hometown, your profession, and the thing you love, not for WMC, and, of course, not the Foundation. With your own action, tell everybody that the mainland Chinese community will not be crushed — and the more they suppress, the more we resist. Now it is time for you to stand up. Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again …… until victory!
In closing, I, on behalf of the Wikimedians User Group and the Wikimedia community in mainland China, would like to shout out to the Wikimedia Foundation: We are open to talk about anything, yet the one who doesn’t want to talk, is you, the Wikimedia Foundation. If there are problems, we can discuss them; if there are misunderstandings, we can resolve them. If you are willing to discuss issues with us on an equal footing, we are more than welcome that. Whatever you are doing, we, the community, are watching.