Chinese Say Farewell to the "Father of Rocketry"
    2009-11-06 11:03:59      Web Editor: Sun Yang

Locals hold a banner to mourn the death of Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen. The funeral for Qian was held Friday morning at the Babaoshan Cemetery in Beijing. Qian Xuesen, dubbed as "China's Father of Rocketry", passed away in Beijing last Saturday at the age of 98. [Photo:cnsphoto]

Tens of thousands of Chinese people Friday bid farewell to the country's much-revered space scientist Qian Xuesen, whose body was cremated at the Beijing Babaoshan Cemetery.

Joining them were President Hu Jintao, former President Jiang Zemin and other top leaders Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang.

A statement, issued by the General Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Friday, described him as "an outstanding CPC member, loyal communist fighter, renowned scientist at home and abroad and founder of China's space program."

Black scrolls were hung in the hall, on which his schoolfellows, colleagues and students left words, in white characters, to remember Qian, a traditional Chinese way to show respect for the deceased.

Qian, widely acclaimed as the country's "father of space technology," died of illness in Beijing on Oct. 31 at the age of 98.

Also known as Tsien Hsue-shen, Qian was considered to have played a key role in China's missile and aviation programs after the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949.

In 1956, based on Qian's position paper on the country's defense and aviation industry, the government set up an aviation industry committee, which later became the leading organization for China's missile and aviation programs.

Under his guidance, China finished the blueprint on developing jet and rocket technologies. He also played a significant role in developing the country's first artificial satellite.

"I had been an assistant to Mr. Qian. He was a very serious and devoted scientist but, in everyday life, he was so easygoing," said Liu Juntao, a senior research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, at the ceremony. "The way he worked and thought is still inspiring me."

Since Sunday, thousands of people have paid homage at his home.

"I was deeply moved. I did not expect so many people to come to mourn him," said Qian Yonggang, his son.

Flowers and mourning wreaths, brought by visitors, filled the doorway of the apartment building and workers had to repeatedly move them away.

Wei Li, a student of Xi'an Jiaotong University, said he felt a personal attachment to Qian after he joined a pilot program initiated by and named after Qian, which tried creative methods to educate young scientists.

"My classmates and I were shocked when the news came to us. We held a candle light rally for him Sunday night," he recalled. "I learned a lot about him. My heart was heavy as a master fell."

Wei attended the farewell ceremony on behalf of all the classmates in the program.

"I would like to tell him that we will pass on his legacy and fulfill the missions he did not have the time to do," he said.

In Qian's hometown Hangzhou, capital of south China's Zhejiang Province, thousands of local residents visited his former residence to pay respects.

"I bring my grandson here to let him know the story of a great scientist," said Pan Xiaolan, whose grandson is still in kindergarten.

Qian was born in Shanghai and lived in Hangzhou until he was three years old. The residence was located in a lane of downtown area in Mashi Street, and a portrait of Qian was hung in the middle of its main hall.

The Hangzhou municipal government decided to temporarily open the residence to the public, which was still under repair, after Qian passed away on Oct. 31.

"I like science too, and I am going to study environmental protection," a student named Zhu Fangcao wrote on the guestbook in the residence, who came with her father from Yiwu of Zhejiang.


Qian is widely remembered for abandoning a decent life in the United States and returning to then poor China in the 1950s.

"There was a huge gap between life here and in the United States in the 1950s when China had just gone through a devastating civil war," said Zheng Nanning, president of the Xi'an Jiaotong University and academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. 

"We should remember all intellectuals of older generations like Qian for their deep love and devotion to the motherland."

After graduation in 1934, Qian studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later at the California Institute of Technology. In 1939, he received a doctorate in aviation and mathematics.

In 1947, at the age of 36, Qian was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute.

He decided to go back to the mainland after New China was founded but, amid the McCarthyism of the 1950s, allegations were made that he was a communist who stole confidential information about the U.S. government.

Qian was put in prison for 15 days, followed by house arrest under surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for five years.

In June 1955, a letter from Qian managed to reach then Premier Zhou Enlai, resulting in Sino-U.S. talks which led to his release.

Together with his wife and two children, Qian sailed for more than a month before arriving on the mainland.

He joined the CPC in 1958.


A drama commemorating Qian created by Chinese space technologists was staged here Friday after his funeral, aiming to encourage young technologists to devote themselves to the space science.

The drama named "Steamship President Cleveland" -- referring to the liner on which Qian sailed back to China in 1955, narrated the story of Qian and other scholars and students working or studying abroad abandoning the favorable life in America and returning to their homeland, said Yang Wu, chief executive officer of Beijing Aerospace Cultural and Creative Industry Development Co., Ltd., who is the chief planner of the drama.

Besides Qian, the liner also carried back another 2,000 excellent such scholars and students home, including nuclear physicist Zhu Guangya, mathematician Hua Luogeng, space scientist Guo Yonghuai, space scientist Wang Xiji, rocket expert Liang Sili and High-energy physicist Xie Jialin, Yang said.

Their returning not only changed their own destinies but also the pace of China's development, he said.

"The play is very moving. I cried when watching. The patriotism and scientific spirit were vividly presented," said Ding Jiekui, an official of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.

"The 90-minutes drama is expected to encourage more young technologists and students to devote themselves to the space science," Yang Wu said. "We hope the play can help the young generation remember the spirits of Qian Xuesen and his peers," Yang said.

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