Chinese President Hu Jintao has described his country's launch of its first manned spacecraft as an historic step for the Chinese people.
The rocket blasted off from Jiuquan in the Gobi desert
The president, who saw the mission blast off, said it was "the glory of our great motherland and a mark for the initial victory of the country's first manned space flight".
The launch of the Shenzhou V spacecraft, propelled into space by a Long March 2F rocket and carrying astronaut Yang Liwei, was welcomed by space experts around the world.
The European Space Agency described it as an "outstanding achievement", while US space agency (Nasa) officials in Houston praised the smoothness of the launch.
China becomes the third nation to send a human into space, 40 years after the Soviet Union and the United States.
The craft is expected to orbit the Earth 14 times during its 22-hour flight before landing at 0700 local time on Thursday (2300 GMT on Wednesday).
"I feel good, see you tomorrow," Yang Liwei told mission control from space.
Chinese state television interrupted normal programmes half-an-hour after the launch to show footage of the event.
The authorities had decided it was too risky to show the launch live.
English-language channel CCTV-9 echoed the words of American Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to walk on the moon.
"If these were small steps, then now we are taking a giant leap into space," the announcer said.
Yang Liwei, a 38-year-old lieutenant in the People's Liberation Army, was only publicly confirmed as the flight began.
The former fighter pilot was cheered onto the capsule by a group of balloon-waving children.
Once aloft, he was said to be "reading a flight manual in the capsule of the Shenzhou V spacecraft and looked composed and at ease".
State television said he would be eating freeze-dried shredded pork with garlic sauce and fried rice during his flight, and drinking tea.
The Shenzhou design is based on the Russian Soyuz three-person space capsule, although the Chinese space programme has made wide-ranging changes.
Yuhangyuan - Chinese for space navigator
Used in official media
Taikonaut - derived from taikong, space
Coined by Singapore-based website
The project has become a matter of national prestige, with Shenzhou described in the official media as "China's self-designed manned spaceship".
"I will not disappoint the motherland," Yang Liwei said before boarding the capsule.
"I will complete each movement with total concentration. And I will gain honour for the People's Liberation Army and for the Chinese
The area around the Jiuquan launch site had been sealed off, with soldiers stopping all vehicles 35kilometres (20 miles) from the Jiuquan launch centre.
From early on Wednesday morning, people were reported to be driving out of Jiuquan city, over 200 km (125 miles) to the south, to try to catch sight of the launch.