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China's great firewall censorship architect retires citing ill health

Fang Binxing still unpopular

Chinese anti-censorship campaigners have rejoiced at the news that the man considered to be the architect of the country's 'great firewall', Fang Binxing, has announced plans to retire his post after suffering ill health.

In a speech to graduating students at Beijing's University of Post and Telecommunication at which he holds a professorship, 53 year-old Binxing cited a serious illness as the reason for his departure.

"Due to excessive demands on my body, and without enough time to replenish, I have experienced a serious illness and lost the capacity to stay up working day and night," he said in translated comments on the University's website.

"I can no longer put both academic research and administrative duty on my shoulders. This is why I have told the authorities that I will not serve for another term."

No date for that departure has been confirmed but already some of his critics expressed satisfaction at the news.

"We are glad that you are gone!" read one of the more polite comments translated from a post on China's equivalent of Twitter, Weibo.

The technocratic Binxing has become a touchstone for unhappiness at the State's censorship of Internet content. In May 2011, a campaigner reportedly threw eggs and shoes at him during one of his speeches. Some months before that incident his growing unpopularity was underlined by the defacement of a blog he published. Such open expresions of disrespect were considered highly unusual.

If as appears the case Binxing is gone for good, the 'golden shield' censorship system he helped create will mark him out as the key figure in the early period of China's digital growth. Whether it survives in in the long term is uncertain but few expect any short-term relaxation of its filtering.

With US politicians angsting about possible spying backdoors in equipment from telecoms firm Huawei, Binxing was also one figure willing to accuse US companies such as Google and Cisco of playing the same game to carry out surveillance on China.

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