The death of British physicist Stephen Hawking unleashed a flood of tearful goodbyes on Chinese social media while state television and newspapers paid tribute to the man who had featured in many a school essay in China over the years
Hawking, who died in England on Wednesday, was the top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo at one point, with ordinary people and celebrities alike bidding farewell to the author of “A Brief History of Time“.
“May Hawking now run freely in the universe that he had explored,” a Weibo user wrote in a post.
For a Stephen Hawking timeline, click
The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party, wrote on Weibo telling its 56.5 million followers to reflect on some of Hawking’s quotes on science and life.
The newspaper also remarked at the coincidence that Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death and died on Einstein‘s birthday.
“One less star on earth, one more star in the sky,” another Weibo post said.
Hawking was followed by more than 4.7 million people on Weibo, China’s biggest social media platform. His posts, while infrequent, were widely discussed and shared.
In an oft-quoted post in 2016, Hawking wished all Chinese students taking the all-important annual university entrance exam best of luck, describing them as “the next generation of scientific minds”.
Hawking himself had been a subject of countless essays by Chinese students on who had inspired them the most
Hawking, who visited the Great Wall on one of his few trips to China despite being ravaged by a wasting motor neurone disease, had professed a deep appreciation for Chinese culture and customs, as well as its youth.
Professor Liu Bing at Tsinghua University recalled meeting Hawking in 1985.
“At that time, Hawking was not famous yet, and “The History of Time” had not been published. But the state of his physique left a deep impression on me, so I sought out an opportunity to take a photo with him,” Liu said.
China’s foreign ministry, in its daily press briefing on Wednesday, took time out to pay tribute to Hawking, describing him as a “remarkable scientist” and a “fighter”.
Riding on the wave of sentiment, some merchants on popular online marketplace Taobao started to sell commemorative sweatshirts for 79 yuan ($12.52) a piece.
Some bookstores in Beijing also reported a surge in inquiries on “A Brief History of Time”.
($1 = 6.3112 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry)