Online enyclopedia Wikipedia was accessible again in China on Thursday after being blocked for more than a year, a move hailed by free media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.
The main page of the Chinese-language version of Wikipedia (zh.wikipedia.org) could be displayed and searches for apolitical terms turned up results, but searches for subjects taboo to China's Communist leadership, such as "June 4," remained blocked.
June 4, 1989, was the date that China's military crushed a student-led movement for political change centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds and possibly thousands. The incident remains among the most sensitive subjects for the country's state-controlled media.
China routinely blocks access to Web sites it deems subversive and filters Internet pages for sensitive words.
It was unclear why Wikipedia, blocked since October 2005, was again accessible.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she had not heard of reports regarding Wikipedia, but added that China supports the development of the Internet and now has 123 million users, making it the world's second-largest Internet market.
"We manage the Internet according to our laws and regulations. This is the usual practice for all the countries in the world," spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference.
Rights groups have accused Western Internet companies of compromising their principles by censoring searches and blog titles in order to do business in China.
But Reporters Without Borders said the example of Wikipedia, whose founder Jimmy Wales has preached a strategy of patience in dealing with Chinese authorities, showed that if a foreign company stood firm, Beijing would eventually yield.
"The Chinese government is pragmatic and does not want to do without foreign businesses in the Internet sector," the Paris-based group said in a statement. "There is therefore obviously room for negotiation for the U.S. companies."
Despite the ban on Wikipedia, which anyone can edit, a small community of Chinese users had used proxy servers and other tricks to gain access to the site.
Analysts have said it was not only the encyclopedia's content that worried the Chinese government, but Wikipedia's open editorial process, which they say has a community-building effect among armchair editors who can quickly mobilize to create content.