China's first astronaut to appear in Hong Kong next week

Saturday, October 25, 2003

BEIJING -- China's first man in space is finally going to appear in public -- not on the Chinese mainland but in Hong Kong.

Yang Liwei will spend four days in Hong Kong starting next Friday, according to the territory's leader, Tung Chee-hwa. The appearance, the first one publicly announced for Yang, seems aimed at boosting the former British colony's tepid sense of Chinese nationalism.

During his four-day visit, Yang's Shenzhou 5 space capsule and its landing parachute, his space suit and samples of his space meals will be on display, Tung told reporters in Hong Kong.

In Beijing, technicians moved the Shenzhou 5 into an exhibition hall on the Chinese capital's west side, though it wasn't clear when the public could view it. While state newspapers said the exhibit was to open Friday, only a handful of Chinese reporters were allowed inside and foreign media were barred.

The exhibit was set up inside the Millennium Monument, where thousands of people gathered to celebrate following Yang's landing Oct. 16 after 21 1/2 hours in orbit.

People looking in through the monument's glass doors could catch a glimpse of the kettle-shaped Shenzhou 5 inside a giant glass display case, surrounded by security guards. Shenzhou means "Divine Vessel."

Earlier Shenzhou capsules also were displayed at the monument following unmanned test flights. One of the four unmanned craft was never seen in public, however, leading to suggestions that it might have been too badly damaged on landing.

The display comes amid a propaganda campaign that is promoting Yang, a 38-year-old fighter pilot, as China's new national hero.

His flight made China only the third member of the club of spacefaring nations -- joining the former Soviet Union and the United States -- a propaganda prize on which communist leaders spent 11 years and billions of dollars.

Yang's mission has "given the nation a new sense of self-confidence," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Yang was declared healthy after his capsule landed by parachute in China's northern grasslands. State television showed him arriving by plane in Beijing a few hours later and being greeted by the country's defense minister, but the secretive, military-linked space program has said little about his activities since then.

A photo in state newspapers showed Yang at a military reception Wednesday night. Dressed in his colonel's uniform, he was holding a giant bouquet of flowers and had more around his neck as he stood on a stage at an aerospace facility in Beijing.

Following Yang's flight, China said it would launch another Shenzhou flight within two years and eventually plans to establish a permanently manned space station.

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