Zuckerberg jogs in Beijing smog in bid to lift Facebook ban

Facebook founder making progress with Chinese propaganda chief, state media reports

As authorities keep tightening the screws on internet freedom in China, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg went jogging on a heavily polluted Tiananmen Square in Beijing to bolster his bid to lift the ban on his social media site.

The Facebook founder and CEO, who has gone to great lengths to win the affections of the Communist Party leadership, including learning Mandarin, reading speeches by President Xi Jinping and asking the Chinese leader to come up with a name for his daughter, met propaganda chief Liu Yunshan.

Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009 but Mr Zuckerberg has been lobbying hard to get the social networking site into the potentially lucrative market, which is the world’s largest with 668 million web users.

According to the official state news agency Xinhua, Mr Zuckerberg “spoke highly of the progress China has made in internet field, saying he would work with Chinese peers to create a better world in cyberspace”.


China has the world’s most tightly controlled internet, with the Great Firewall of China suppressing content seen as a threat to the Communist Party. Controversial social media posts are quickly taken down, and sceptics refer to it as the “Chinternet”.

One online commentator wrote: “Facebook chief meets chief of ‘404 not found’ site”, referring to the message that appears in a browser when one tries to access a banned site.

As well as Facebook, other sites currently blocked are Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, the New York Times and Bloomberg, and the only way to access them is by using a virtual private network, an external server.

Mr Zuckerberg caused major hilarity online when he posted pictures of himself on Facebook at the weekend jogging on Tiananmen Square, on a day when the air pollution reading was “hazardous”.

The photo of a jogging Zuckerberg were superimposed on to the famous “Tank Man” picture, showing a man with shopping bags stopping a convoy of tanks near Tiananmen Square in 1989 before the crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing in June of that year.


Since Mr Xi came to power in 2012, the government has tightened control of the internet, including a “cybersovereignty” law, a ban on circulating “rumours”, and a requirement that companies have a “safe and controllable” online presence.

Mr Xi has defended China’s right to independently choose its own model of cyberspace governance. While the Great Firewall is used to stop pornography online, it is also used to muzzle dissenting voices.

Mr Liu, who is on the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo, said he hoped Facebook would “work with Chinese internet enterprises to enhance exchanges and share experience so as to make outcome of the internet development better benefit the people of all countries.”

“Cyberspace is the common space of mankind,” Mr Liu said.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing