A profession with a history in Beijing stretching back more than a thousand years came to an end yesterday - the manual collection of human waste. Six men, led by model worker Fan Baofa, finished their daily rounds in the Dongcheng district, each carrying more than 50kg, and laid down their buckets for the last time, the Beijing Morning News reported. The six went to 32 toilets in the alleys and courtyards of the old city that were not connected to the urban sewage system or were too narrow to permit access by a sewage truck. They carried large buckets, into which they scooped the contents of the toilets, and poured them into a truck waiting nearby. At the start of this year, the Dongcheng district government invested 10 million yuan (HK$9.4 million) to connect the 32 toilets to the main system, making the work of the six men redundant. Mr Fan, 38, is the veteran of the group, having done this job for the past 15 years. Born in Beijing, he was sent during the Cultural Revolution to the 'Great Northern Wilderness', a giant state farm in Heilongjiang province on the border with the then Soviet Union. Chairman Mao Zedong sent millions of urban Chinese to work in the countryside to force them to learn how to be a farmer. Mr Fan drove a combine harvester. He returned to Beijing in 1985 and worked as an interior decorator, selling vegetables and riding a three-wheeler. He became a waste collector because it was a secure government job and enabled him to get Beijing residence permits for his wife and child. His work has been not only dirty, smelly and tiring but also dangerous and on one occasion he nearly died. A few years ago, the sewage system of the Swissotel, one of the city's upmarket hotels, was blocked and Mr Fan went down to clear it. Inside the septic tank, he was overcome by the fumes and fainted. He barely came to, and - still feeling very weak - only just managed to climb out. 'From head to toe I was covered in sewage - but for us that is an everyday occurrence.'