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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Mixed emotions for Chinese public

By Tim Luard
BBC News Online

Initial reaction in China to news of the successful launch of the country's first manned spacecraft has been a mixture of pride, relief, apathy, cynicism - and ignorance that it's happening at all.

Crowds watch the launch on giant screens
Some feel China has more important things to worry about than space
Many people around the country - contacted by BBC News Online some eight hours after the Shenzhou 5 lifted off - said they had no idea the mission had even begun... or were too busy to talk about such things.

Some said they were pleased by the news because it meant China could now "stand up straight" alongside space powers like the United States.

Others said the government was using the space programme to gain political capital at a time of growing social divisions.

The first most people knew about the event was when morning television programmes were interrupted to announce the successful launch.

Soon afterwards, small crowds began gathering near giant screens outside shopping malls in Beijing, as pictures showed Shenzhou streaking into the sky.

It's like hosting the Olympics ... it means China is growing strong
George Guo, Guangzhou
"I feel very proud," said one man as he watched pictures of the lift-off on a screen outside a supermarket. "It shows that China is strong and powerful."

"Having a man in space is important for a great power", said another.

Others admitted they did not know what tangible benefits the mission would bring but said it had cheered them up.

The main interest seemed to focus on how China's first astronaut was sleeping and - even more important in a country obsessed with food - what he was eating.

"Excitement is definitely building up. And people have been gasping with relief that everything went OK, despite the government's cautious media handling," said a BBC correspondent in Beijing.

We're not breaking any new barriers. We're 40 years behind
Dean Peng, Beijing
News of the launch came too late for the morning newspapers, but evening papers and online editions reflected the official mood of exultation.

"China's manned space dream becomes true," was the headline in the China Daily.

"With a column of beautiful smoke, the Shenzhou (Divine Vessel ) 5 craft cut across a bright northwest China sky at exactly 9 am Wednesday and went into orbit 10 minutes later," said the state-run paper's online edition .

The Gansu Daily, published in China's arid northwest, where the launch took place, said this was a "1,000-year dream of flying dreamed by the sons and daughters of China".

While it was still dark, some 1,000 space enthusiasts and journalists had started a dash through icy cold weather along the only road towards the launch site in the hope of seeing history in the making.

President Hu Jintao was among those who attended the launch, hailing it as an "historic step taken by the Chinese people in their endeavour to surmount the peak of the world's science and technology".

China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, was a "warrior", he said, who the Party and people would never forget.

Speaking to Yang before the mission began, he called on him to be "cool-headed, staunch and courageous" in performing this "glorious, sacred mission".

Mr Hu's predecessor as president, Jiang Zemin, was originally credited with getting China's space programme to where it is today, but the current coverage has made no mention of him, suggesting that Mr Hu will be able to take full political advantage of the glory that is bound to be attached to a successful space flight.

Mixed feelings

Not everybody was celebrating, with some ordinary Chinese raising concerns about the venture's cost.

In an unusual departure from the uniformity displayed in China, they said the country should be spending its money on building hospitals and helping the poor in the countryside, rather than sending people into orbit.

Now foreigners will realise we don't only make clothes and shoes
Yen Xuetong, Tsinghua University
"This is just being used for propaganda purposes," said Dean Peng, an economic consultant in Beijing.

"It's an achievement, sure, but it's not breaking any new technological barriers. We're 40 years behind the Americans and Russians.

"To my knowledge, no one here is celebrating it. Ordinary people just don't care about this sort of thing."

Many Chinese contacted on Wednesday said they were too busy to discuss the space mission.

Either they had not heard the news of the launch at all, or they had other things to worry about, they said.

In the booming southern city of Guangzhou people were more concerned with a local trade fair than with news of the first Chinese in space.

"In Beijing people are more politically active and follow things like this but here in the south everyone is very busy making money," said George Guo, a local educational worker.

"But it's still good news. It's like hosting the Olympic Games - it means China is growing strong."

For some older people, the space launch was reminiscent of China's first nuclear test in 1964.

"Events like this bring pride and satisfaction not just to people here but also to Overseas Chinese around the world," said Yen Xuetong, of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University.

The successful launch will make Chinese people everywhere believe that if they work hard they can achieve practical goals and help make China richer and stronger, he told BBC News Online.

As for the impact on the wider international stage, it will increase foreign people's confidence in the Chinese and their products, said professor Yen.

"Now they will realise that we don't only make clothes and shoes."


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