China’s “Great Firewall,” the system of online controls that keep Internet users from seeing information the Beijing government deems sensitive, was built and is maintained by unknown thousands of programmers and engineers. So it is perhaps unfair to give one man credit for creating the censorship regime. Fang Binxing, a computer science professor known as the “father of the Great Firewall,” might agree with that sentiment after he was pelted with a shoe during a lecture at Wuhan University in central China yesterday.
As news of Fang’s talk at the university’s computer science department spread online yesterday, a small group planned to shower him with eggs. The eggs missed, but one person writing on the Twitter account @hanunyi said he managed to hit Fang with a shoe and then fled. Police are investigating, the Associated Press reported. In the hours following Fang’s bombardment Chinese Internet users posted praise and offers of rewards for the shoe thrower. Much of the discussion before and after the incident took place on Twitter, which is blocked in China but many tech savvy Web users can access through virtual private networks, which bypass domestic Internet controls. On Sina Weibo, a popular domestic Chinese microblog service, searches for Fang’s name are blocked, but users posted messages of support using phrases like “throw shoes.”
Fang, who is president of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, is no stranger to such scorn. When he began using on Sina Weibo last December, he was showered with criticism by other users, and quickly shuttered his account. An official white paper on the Internet released last year said that the government valued the Internet as a way of handling complaints and allowing citizens to express their opinion. This week Fang was probably wishing the criticism of his work had remained merely online.