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News of the passing of Nelson Mandela, former South African president, on Thursday saddened the global community. The anti-apartheid revolutionary's connection to China dates back decades and has been a unique one.
China on Friday expressed its condolences over the passing of the legendary leader to South African President Jacob Zuma. President Xi Jinping said Mandela laid a great foundation for China-South Africa relations and had pushed forward cooperation in different areas between the two peoples. The former president will always be remembered by the Chinese people for all the contributions he made for China and South Africa, Xi said.
Mandela passed away at the age of 95 in Johannesburg, after a long illness.
The South African leader once said that Chinese people's fight for national independence had inspired South Africans and himself. Back in 2004, when he met the then-Chinese Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, Mandela said that former Chinese leaders — such as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De — as well as the Chinese people themselves had inspired him and the South African people.
"Like the people of the East, Africans have a highly developed sense of dignity, or what the Chinese call 'face'," wrote Mandela in his best-selling autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
"In Edgar Snow's brilliant Red Star Over China I saw that it was Mao's determination and non-traditional thinking that led him to victory," he wrote.
The South African leader was known to have pushed forward the establishment of diplomatic relations between China in 1998, a year and a half before he retired as the first Black president in South African history.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid during which he read Chinese philosophers including Confucius and was inspired by the Selected Works of Mao Zedong.
After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela travelled to many countries, including China twice, where he walked on the Great Wall in Beijing. Mandela met with a number of Chinese leaders, including former Presidents Jiang Zeming and Hu Jintao (while he served as vice-president).
Among the many who paid tribute to the passing of Mandela, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the South African leader was "a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration".
"Many around the world were greatly influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. He touched our lives in deeply personal ways. At the same time, no one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations," said Ban.
The UN General Assembly in 2009 named July 18 — the leader's birthday — Nelson Mandela International Day. It was the first ever international day honoring an individual.
The freedom fighter, the ex-boxer and lawyer, described as "influential, courageous and profoundly good" by US President Barack Obama, also influenced the Chinese people greatly.
On China's popular Twitter-like social media site Sina Weibo, Chinese netizens expressed their condolences.
"The passing of Mandela has a huge impact in different parts of the world," wrote China's property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang on his Weibo posting. "Because he was a fighter — for all his life — for democracy, equality and peace and harmony, he is now an icon of all these."
A user named HuGuan Zhang Wei based in Shanxi wrote: "A great leader; Rest in peace."
"Mandela, a great leader I respect — you passed away with a smile — rest in peace. You are great because you tolerated and sacrificed. You touched the whole of humanity," wrote Landiaoshiyi, a Zhongshan-based Weibo user.