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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Pilot remembered in cyberspace
Wang Wei
Wang Wei: "Protector of the Sea and Sky"
Tributes to the missing Chinese pilot Wang Wei, who disappeared after his plane was involved in a mid-air collision with an American spy plane, are flooding to an online memorial.

The virtual memorial has attracted more than 57,000 visitors to its Chinese site and 14,000 to its English-language page.


You are the pride of the Chinese nation

Online tribute to Wang Wei
The Navy has already declared the 33-year-old pilot a "revolutionary martyr", and President Jiang Zemin has signed an official decree honouring him as "Protector of the Sea and Sky".

To many Chinese the pilot has become a potent symbol of what they see as China's defiant stand against an aggressive, intrusive western superpower.

The United States has blamed the 1 April mid-air collision on Wang, saying he had reckless flying habits and flew too close to the US aircraft.

The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis for Beijing and Washington after China refused to release the 24-member US crew and its marooned aircraft.

China released the crew on 12 April when Washington said it was "very sorry" for the loss of Wang and for making an emergency landing in China without verbal permission.

Digital tributes

Visitors to the cyber-memorial can light a flickering candle or select a floral tribute - digital of course - from a list including lilies, carnations, chrysanthemums and even something called a flamingo flower.

US video shot on 30 January they say shows Wang Wei showing the US crew his e-mail address
The US says it shot this video footage of Wang Wei in January
They can even dedicate a song to Wang. A range of options includes Fur Elise, Auld Lang Syne and Candle in the Wind, Elton John's tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Site operators Netor.com even have an online memorial to Princess Diana, but it has attracted barely 300 tributes.

Many of the messages praise Wang.

One mourner wrote: "You are the pride of the Chinese nation."

Another mourner, signing himself "Daniel", said: "As an American I apologise and am deeply ashamed of our spying tactics all over the world. Wang Wei would still be with us if America was not so paranoid".

But others have used the site to criticise China, attacking its US policy and urging Beijing to get out of Tibet.

One floral tribute is labelled: "A big sunflower for a twit who brought about his own death".

On the Chinese site, Wang has the third highest number of hits.

First place belongs to Lu Youqing, the Shanghai writer whose online diary of his final months suffering from cancer became a literary sensation.


Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
11 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
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