|Two men mourn before portraits of the late Nelson Mandela outside the South African embassy in Beijing on Friday. Zou Hong / China Daily|
Former South African leader will be forever remembered, president says
President Xi Jinping expressed deep grief on Friday over the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela, extending sincere sympathy to Mandela's family on behalf of the Chinese government and people. Lauding him as "a world-renowned statesman", Xi said Mandela had led his nation's people through an arduous struggle to triumph over apartheid, making a historic contribution to the birth and development of a new South Africa.
Mandela, who died on Thursday at the age of 95, visited China twice, in 1992 and 1999.
Xi said Mandela was one of the founders of Sino-South African relations and an active champion of bilateral friendship and cooperation. China established diplomatic relations with South Africa in 1998, when Mandela was president.
"The Chinese people will forever remember the outstanding contributions he made to the cause of human progress," Xi said.
Premier Li Keqiang also expressed condolences on Mandela's death.
Vice-President Li Yuanchao visited the South African embassy in Beijing to offer condolences.
Flags flew at half mast at the embassy on Friday.
Boards printed in Chinese and English bearing Mandela's quotation, "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall", were placed outside the embassy compound with two huge Mandela portraits.
After hearing about Mandela's death, many Beijing residents stopped at the embassy to pay tribute.
"I came here to show my respect," said a man who was on his way to work in the morning. He placed a bouquet under Mandela's portraits before leaving.
Mandela's death dominated major Chinese TV channels, while Baidu, the largest Chinese search engine, turned its search page for Mandela all-gray, in mourning.
Other major Web portals devoted special sections to him, presenting retrospectives on Mandela's life and promising live broadcasts of his funeral.
More than 507,000 people had joined a discussion on Mandela as of 11:30 pm on the Twitter-like Weibo.com, a leading Chinese social network.
Many users reposted Mandela's sayings, such as "It always seems impossible until it's done", and "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it".
In his memoir Conversations with Myself, Mandela said China's modern history and Chinese revolutionary strategy had a strong influence on him.
On his second trip to China, he said the Chinese people, who fought for liberation and freedom, had greatly encouraged South African people in their fight against apartheid.
He expressed his appreciation for the support South Africa had received from the Chinese government and people.
Liu Guijin, then a senior official in the Department of African Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, recalled the moment when he first saw Mandela during his second visit to China.
"He smiled and extended both of his hands to shake hands with all the people in the room," Liu said. "Everyone was touched."
From 2001 to 2007, Liu served as Chinese ambassador to South Africa, giving him more opportunities to get to know Mandela.
"He once told me that when he was in prison he and his fellow inmates used to celebrate China's National Day, which falls on Oct 1. They painted Chinese flags on their hands secretly, to encourage each other to fight and achieve success like the Chinese people."
In Liu's mind, Mandela was a man of peace.
"He spent 27 years in jail, but he smiled to the world when he was released. He told others to forgive their oppressors and to move on."
Not many foreign leaders appear in China's school textbooks, but millions of Chinese high school students have learned about Mandela's deeds as a freedom fighter, in English-language classes.
"Nelson Mandela was a fighter," says one text titled "Nelson Mandela — a modern hero".
"Instead of bowing down to this unjust system of government, he became a lifelong warrior in the battle to free South Africa. Today, thanks to the sacrifice of Nelson Mandela, apartheid has been outlawed. Everyone in South Africa now has an equal opportunity, " the text says.
In 1990, Hong Kong rock band Beyond had a hit with Glorious Years, a song about anti-racism and the struggles of Mandela. The song registered a high number of clicks among Chinese Internet users on Friday.
One netizen wrote, "The classic song carries my grief, and I will listen to it again to recall the great Mandela."
Many Chinese living and working in South Africa said Mandela was like a guardian for the Chinese community there.
Xu Peihua, secretary-general of the police cooperation center in Johannesburg, the first police center for the Chinese community overseas, said: "Mandela's death is a huge loss for us.
"If his governing principles had not been carried out, we would all be in danger. We can say that he was the best protection we can have in the country."
Xinhua contributed to this story