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Postcard from... Beijing



Last week, the president of Beijing’s University of Posts and  Telecommunications, Fang Binxing, stepped down over health concerns. But Fang’s departure is not likely to be widely mourned by China’s online citizenry, for this is the man who invented the loathed “Great Firewall of China”.

The Great Firewall system that he designed blocks China’s near-600 million Internet users from accessing some of the world’s most popular websites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, while it also keeps a lid on news websites such as The New York Times and Bloomberg.

The programme was adopted by Chinese authorities in 1998 and came online around 2003, ostensibly to block access to “inappropriate” online content such as pornography, but it also blocks politically sensitive information, stopping searches which use keywords such as ‘Tibet’ and ‘Dalai Lama’.

The Great Firewall means that Internet access in mainland China can often be painfully slow when compared to neighbouring countries.

“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 graduates in June. Local reports cited cancer as the reason for his withdrawal.

When Fang opened a Weibo microblog on Sina.com a couple of years ago, he received nearly 10,000 messages in three hours, mostly from users lambasting him for disrupting web access for them.