Notepad++ is a free text editor, commonly used to edit code in separate tabs. This way, you can switch between different files in the same window, just as you would with tabs in a browser. As of Monday, Notepad++ is banned in China.

At university, it was a handy piece of software, and has been voted the most popular text editor by Lifehacker readers. 

So, what on Earth could China have against Notepad++? Why have they blacklisted it? Isn’t that as crazy as banning, say, Microsoft Word? 

The Notepad++ user interface. Image credit: Notepad++

Controversial updates

It may sound baffling to ban a simple source code editor, but when you look at the names of the latest editions, it’s hardly a surprise. 

The founding developer of Notepad++, Don Ho, caused a stir by naming a previous update the Tiananmen June Fourth Incident. This was in reference to the thousands who were wounded or killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when pro-democracy protests were suppressed by state forces. In China today, people don’t mention the incident for fear of government retribution. 

What’s more, the two latest editions of Notepad++ are called Free Uyghur and Stand with Hong Kong. Ho is a long-time critic of human rights conditions in the Xinjiang region and more recently in Hong Kong.

The France-based developer admitted on his Twitter that he wasn’t shocked by the ban. 

Not yet a blanket ban

For now, Chinese browsers developed by Tencent, Alibaba, 360, and Sogou are only blocking the Notepad++ downloads page. Trying to access this brings up a message stating the site contains ‘illegal information’. The Notepad++ home page, where there is no evidence of the politically sensitive editions, is still accessible.

Searching via Chrome or DuckDuckGo browsers still provides full access to the site and downloads page. 

Comply or else

For many big tech companies, operating in China poses a contentious choice.

Twitter, Facebook, and Google all abandoned hopes of success in the Chinese system after public and employee backlash

Other major players, such as Microsoft, censor their content to appease the Chinese government. Microsoft’s Bing and LinkedIn, for example, monitor and remove content they think could offend authorities. And Tiktok deletes content in China related to Tibetan independence and Tiananmen Square.

Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Icons
Social media apps. Photo credit: Pixabay

Even for those complying, foreign business is rarely secure. Late last year, Beijing ordered the removal of all foreign tech from state offices by the end of 2022. This could be a significant blow to US tech firms like Microsoft, HP, and Dell.

Time will tell if more big tech corporations will follow the Notepad++ founder’s stance on human rights, or whether they will cling onto business in China for as long as feasibly possible. 

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