China's biggest Internet search site, Baidu.com, has launched a Chinese-language encyclopedia inspired by the cooperative reference site Wikipedia, which the communist government bars China's Web surfers from seeing.
The Chinese service, which debuted in April, carries entries written by users, but warns that it will delete content about sex, terrorism and attacks on the communist government.
Government censors blocked access last year to Wikipedia, whose registered users have posted more than 1.1 million entries, apparently due to concern about its references to Tibet, Taiwan and other topics.
The emergence of Baidu's encyclopedia reflects efforts by Chinese entrepreneurs to take advantage of conditions created by the government's efforts to simultaneously promote and control Internet use.
Baidu calls its site Baike — pronounced “bye kuh” — or “One Hundred Chapters.” It says users have written more than 25,000 entries in the past week alone on cooking, the stock market, Chinese tourist sites and other topics.
Baidu said managers weren't immediately available to answer questions about the site. But chairman Robin Li told The Financial Times newspaper in comments this week that it was inspired by Wikipedia, though he said he hasn't seen the U.S.-based site.
"I certainly hope our encyclopedia will be the most authoritative one for any Chinese users," Li was quoted as saying. "The initial reaction has been very positive, so we are quite confident that we will quickly become the No. 1 in this area."
China has 111 million Internet users, second only to the United States. The government promotes Web use for business and education but operates the world's most sweeping censorship system, trying to block access to foreign sites considered obscene or subversive.
Baidu was founded in 2000 by Li, a U.S.-trained computer scientist who worked for search engine firm Infoseek, and Eric Xu, a veteran of American biotech firms. Xu later left the company.
Baidu has benefited in the past from China's Internet controls. It saw a competing search engine, U.S.-based Google Inc., plunge in popularity in China after Beijing imposed filters on its search results, sharply slowing access to Google's foreign-based site.
Google has since created a China-based site that allows faster access while leaving out search results on banned topics. But it is far behind Baidu in Chinese market share.