China welcomes Stephen Hawking on Weibo with awe

Screenshot of Stephen Hawking's Weibo account taken on 13 April 2016 Image copyright Weibo
Image caption Prof Hawking is among a growing number of international figures who have joined Weibo in recent years to connect to a Chinese audience

Chinese netizens have given a warm welcome to Prof Stephen Hawking after he joined microblog network Sina Weibo.

The British astrophysicist amassed two million followers within hours of launching his account on Tuesday.

His first message was a greeting to his "friends in China" posted in both English and Chinese.

Some Weibo users were comparing the experience of interacting with Prof Hawking online to making contact with the universe.

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More than 230 million people use Sina Weibo, China's biggest social media platform, every month.

A growing number of international figures who have joined Weibo in recent years to connect to a Chinese audience.

'Gently touching the universe'

Prof Hawking's second post, on Wednesday, described the interstellar project Breakthrough Starshot which he is backing, saying it was "exciting to be involved in such an ambitious project".

Both posts were quickly flooded with excited comments expressing admiration and awe.

One wrote: "I'm writing this comment, even though you probably won't read it and understand it, so that it will at least flash on your phone for a second... This fragile connection is like using my fingers to gently touch the universe."

"Since I was a child I would always cite you in my school essays, you are an example for all of us!" said one commenter, while another wrote: "OMG, you have pulled up the average IQ of all the users on Weibo."

Others urged fellow netizens to be on their best behaviour around him.

"I hope there won't be any idiots who ask the professor brainless questions, please do not take him as a joke, and do not shame us Chinese people," said a commenter.

Still others peppered him with questions on the existence of aliens and quantum physics.

Prof Hawking has enjoyed a substantial following in China, with a Xinhua article on his last visit in 2006 noting he has "a cult status among Chinese youngsters much like that of Tom Cruise".

"The appeal of Hawking largely comes from his ability to be a great thinker despite his physical challenges," it said.

Who's who on Weibo?

Image copyright Weibo / David Cameron
Image caption Mr Cameron has amassed nearly a million followers since his debut on Weibo in 2013
  • Other international figures who have gained a huge following on Weibo include British PM David Cameron, India PM Narendra Modi, US talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres and Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka.
  • Unlike Twitter which it is often compared to, Weibo does not measure popularity solely on the number of followers - it has its own algorithms determining each person's influence.
  • Factors include how often a person is mentioned and searched, the level of his or her activity, and "likeability and enviability".
  • The current top figures on its celebrity chart for China are members of the popular teenage band TFBOYS, entertainer Lu Han, and actor Huang Jingyu.

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