Asia Briefing: Father of the Great Firewall retires

Online community unlikely to mourn departure of orchestrator of internet block on top western sites

Last week saw the retirement of Fang Binxing, the father of the "Great Firewall of China", as president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

His departure is unlikely to be widely mourned by China’s online citizenry, many of whom hate him for introducing the loathed system of controls.

The Great Firewall system he designed blocks 600 million internet users from accessing some of the world's most popular websites in China, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, while it also keeps a lid on the New York Times and Bloomberg.

The program was adopted by Chinese authorities in 1998 and came online around 2003.


The firewall blocks out keywords, such as Tibet and the Dalai Lama, and it means that internet access in mainland China can often be painfully slow when compared to neighbouring countries.

The system aims to block access to “inappropriate” online content. Defining “inappropriate” is the reason he became such a controversial figure. While it kept the lid on pornography and online gambling, it also blocked content the government didn’t like, especially politically sensitive news.

“A serious illness has made me unable to stay up working late into nights any longer. I couldn’t shoulder the dual responsibilities of doing research and administration like I did before,” he told an audience of graduates in June, and his retirement came into effect last week.

Local reports say Mr Fang (53) has cancer.

He had become a detested figure in China. When he opened a Weibo microblog on Sina. com a couple of years back, nearly 10,000 webizens had left messages within three hours, most of them lambasting him for messing up web access for them.

In 2011, a disgruntled student threw a shoe at him during a lecture at Wuhan University.

In an interview with the Global Times, Fang confessed to having signed up to six virtual private networks that he uses to access some of the websites he had originally helped block.