The authorities are seeking a college student who sneaked into a lecture hall at one of China’s most prestigious universities on Thursday and tossed eggs and shoes at a computer scientist both lionized and reviled as the architect of China’s strict Internet controls.
According to Twitter postings from a man claiming responsibility for the attack, the eggs missed, but at least one shoe hit its intended target: Fang Binxing, popularly described as “the father of the Great Firewall,” who was giving a talk on Internet security. The student, known for the moment only by his Twitter handle, @hanunyi, apparently fled the scene in bare feet.
Although there has been no official acknowledgment of the incident, The Associated Press quoted a local police official as saying that the case was under investigation.
The attack and its messy aftermath were described through postings by @hanunyi, as well as several other students who said they saw the assault, which took place at Wuhan University in central Hubei Province. At least three other people, encouraged by a Twitter posting announcing Mr. Fang’s lecture at the department of computer science, had planned to join the protest but bailed out at the last moment. “We saw our professor and graduate supervisor there and immediately lost courage,” one of them wrote on Twitter.
With his talk interrupted and the classroom in chaos, Mr. Fang appeared to have cut short his lecture and left for the airport.
In the hours that followed, a firestorm of approving sentiment ricocheted across the Chinese Internet — much of which was promptly deleted by censors. Postings hailed @hanunyi — a student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology — as a hero and promised all manner of recompense, from iPads and designer shoes to carnal rewards offered by admiring women of the sort that China’s Internet guardians would likely deem harmful to the nation’s morality.
“If you, the shoe thrower, get kicked out of school for this, my company will hire you in a minute,” said one anonymous posting on a Wuhan University student message board.
Beyond the audacity of the protest, the public gloating revealed the animus that many Chinese feel toward Mr. Fang, who has been unapologetic about his role in creating a system that bars access to tens of thousands of Web sites. While a great many blocked sites feature pornographic material, others, like YouTube and Facebook, are viewed by the authorities as potential vehicles for fomenting opposition to Communist Party rule.
Such strictures have grown tighter in recent months as China, with one eye on unrest in the Arab world, has sought to choke off any inkling of organized protest.
Mr. Fang, the president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, has hailed Internet censorship as a necessary defense against Western governments and “democracy activists” who seek to harm China through incendiary information.
“They sit comfortably at home, thinking only of how, through their fingertips on a keyboard, they can bring chaos to China by taking advantage of the Internet’s effectiveness as a multiplier,” he said in a commencement speech this year. The students, according to published accounts of the address, responded with enthusiastic applause.
But Mr. Fang’s detractors, it seems, can be equally vocal. Last December, after a brief flirtation with microblogging, Mr. Fang closed his account on Sina.com after it was flooded with thousands of derisive comments. He has also been publicly roasted for admitting in an interview that he employed six different virtual private network services, or V.P.N.’s, to vault over the firewall he created — although he insists he uses them for research purposes. “I only try them to test which side wins,” he told The Global Times this year.
Although aggressive protests are rare in China, Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor of journalism at University of California, Berkeley, said the shoe- and egg-tossing incident was not entirely surprising.
“The Great Firewall is state policy but Fang has become the face of system that frustrates and angers a growing number of Internet users,” Professor Xiao said. “In that sense, I guess you could say he was a fair target.”
From The New York Times