China is firing on all cylinders. Now it is the time for knowledge, as it hires thousands of scholars to write a digital guide to everything for publication and free on-line access next year. ‘Not a book but a great wall of culture,’ Yang Muzhi, its editor-in-chief, said adding that ‘the Chinese Encyclopaedia should overtake Wikipedia and Britannica.’
Yet the compilation may struggle to win over some readers because the public will be excluded from participating and Communist Party censorship will limit mention of sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. Unlike Wikipedia, which invites the public to write, edit and update entries, the Chinese government has hired more than 20,000 scholars to write about 300,000 entries.
The work will form the first on-line version of the Chinese Encyclopaedia, first published in print in 1993. China’s scholars have been producing encyclopaedias for almost two millennia, often by imperial command. ‘The project will increase cultural soft power and strengthen the core values of socialism,’ said Bai Chunli, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. ‘China needs such an encyclopaedia to guide and lead the public and society,’ Mr. Yang said.
Whatever one thinks, the Chinese don’t wait to be left behind by Western powers. Their march of late has been rather sensational as their pace to catch up is gaining momentum. Hopefully, however, freedom of expression will soon follow suit.