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China’s Academic Databases Close the Door to Foreign Scholars

The University of California, San Diego library told Voice of America that it received notice on March 17 from the administrator of the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) that it would be unable to access some databases as of April 1. Other affected libraries include the City University of Hong Kong Library, the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and at least a dozen other research institutions.

Founded in 1999, CNKI is the largest academic database in China. It contains Chinese government reports, academic journals, and papers from 1915 to the present, covering a wide range of fields, including politics, economics, humanities and social sciences, and science and technology. For researchers who do not have physical access to Chinese libraries, the resources provided by the CNKI are particularly important to their research.

Donald Clarke, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said in his tweet, “It is unfortunately China that is by far the most active in decoupling — the most recent example being the closing of foreign access to many important CNKI databases.”

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told Voice of America (VOA) that “CNKI has not indicated which databases may never be reopened. He added that researchers outside China could still access these resources by visiting research institutions in China.

“That means, however, that they have to be vetted by Chinese academic institutions before they can be accepted as visiting scholars. Under Xi’s rules, all these institutions are under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).” Tsang noted this, suggesting that the CCP hopes to influence how foreign academics portray China by controlling information.

Perry Link, a U.S.-based China scholar, says this reflects the mindset of the Chinese leadership. “Chinese Communist Party spokesmen often accuse the United States of having a ‘Cold War mentality. In today’s information age, there is nothing more indicative of Cold War thinking than preventing the free flow of government reports and academic papers across borders,” Link told VOA.

Source: Voice of America, March 28, 2023