How to praise Mandela?

Chinese residents bow to a banner bearing a picture of former South African President Nelson Mandela as they pay tribute in front of the South African Embassy in Beijing on 6 December 2013
Image caption Tributes were paid to Nelson Mandela at the South African embassy in Beijing

China, in common with the rest of the world, is marking the death of Nelson Mandela.

But on waking to the news this morning, China's leaders faced a difficult task: how to refer to the man most closely associated with the struggle for freedom and democracy, without actually referring to either freedom or democracy - two things that make the Communist Party distinctly nervous here?

Also tricky - any mention of Nelson Mandela's time as the world's most famous political prisoner - China still has people locked-up for their political views, such as Nobel Peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo (who called for democracy). Which also meant that China's tribute to Nelson Mandela couldn't refer to his Nobel Prize either.

So by the end, President Xi Jinping's message of condolence was, compared to the other major world leaders, a little flat.

Mr Mandela, he said, was "a world renowned politician" who had led the South African people to victory in the "anti-apartheid struggle" after a "hard and extraordinary effort over a long period of time" (no reference to 27 years in prison).

Mandela's legacy? "The Chinese people will always remember his outstanding contributions to the China-South Africa relationship and the course of progress of mankind."