BEIJING, July 13 -- One day after the death of one of the country's greatest minds, Chinese paid their respects Sunday to Ji Xianlin, a widely acclaimed linguist and "national treasure".
The line of mourners was seemingly endless for the midday memorial service in the auditorium at Peking University, where Ji had once worked.
Ji, who was born in Shandong, was awarded the highest honors in literature by China and India. He was one month short of his 98th birthday. Ji suffered a heart attack at a Beijing hospital on Saturday.
Li Yun, a 23-year-old wearing a black T-shirt and a white paper flower as a mark of respect, cried after bowing before Ji's giant portrait, decorated with plants and wreaths.
"It is just not easy to bid farewell to such a great master," said Shangguan Junlong, who accompanied Li. Both are biology students at Tsinghua University.
Bouquets of flowers were laid at the gate of Ji's former compound in the north corner of the 110-year-old university. Bookstores in Beijing and other cities put Ji's works on their front shelves.
Among messages of sympathy from the public were the condolences of State leaders.
Premier Wen Jiabao paid a special visit to Ji's deathbed at the hospital hours after Ji's death.
Wen, who had visited Ji several times in recent years, saw Ji as the symbol of the nation's intellectual tradition, which some believe is in danger of being diminished.
"I was preparing for your birthday on Aug 6. I even had prepared some questions to consult you," the premier was quoted as saying by Qian Wenzhong, a Fudan University professor who had studied under Ji.
Nation to miss "national treasure"
The linguist's achievements on ancient Indian aboriginal languages, primeval Buddhist languages and Sanskrit literature will take volumes to publish, Professor Zhang Guanglin, an expert in East Asian languages, said Sunday.
"Most of the public does not understand what Ji has been studying over the years, but they know that he is a symbol of intellectual integrity and therefore a 'national treasure'," said Zhang, who had studied under Ji.
Ji, however, never liked the idea of being glorified as the savior of the nation's intelligentsia. "Please remove the national treasure crown off my head," Ji used to say. But the media, eager to find leaders of Chinese intellectuals, never found it easy to get new answers from others.
Ren Jiyu, another respected scholar, died the same day as Ji. He was 93.
"The nation's academic achievements cannot depend on one or two masters. It takes more universities with open mindsets to all kinds of academic debates," said Shangguan as he left the memorial