The architect of China's Great Firewall was forced to use a VPN to bypass his own creation in a lecture this week on internet safety.
Fang Binxing was speaking at his old university, the Harbin Institute of Technology in Heilongjiang, China, when he attempted to access webpages hosted in South Korea as a way to illustrate a point about internet sovereignty.
The projected image from his laptop came up "Page not found" – a common occurrence for Chinese internet users who live behind the censorship apparatus built by Binxing and run by the Chinese government.
To the audience's amazement, Binxing then tried to bypass the firewall using a VPN installed on his computer – the same tool secretly installed by millions of Chinese to get around censorship efforts, but whose use is heavily frowned upon by officials.
As his compatriots looked on, Binxing then had the equally frustrating experience of dealing with a slow and unstable connection to the outside world, with the link falling over twice as he tried to access Facebook and Google.
In the end, he resorted to using Baidu to grab a screenshot of the Google homepage and continued with his talk. But a planned question-and-answer session at the end of the talk was abruptly cancelled.
Binxing's problems were likely linked to an expansion of the Great Firewall in an effort to remove any mention of the Panama Papers leak story from this week.
As has been reported by China Digital Times – a service run by the University of California, Berkeley – the Chinese government has expanded its censorship of news surrounding the offshore banking habits of the world's elites to include not only relatives of high-ranking Chinese officials, but any mention at all of the Panama Papers.
The millions of files from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca show that the families of at least eight current and former members of China's politburo are among those shown to have used offshore accounts to hide or obscure their wealth. ®