People pay their respects to Yuan Longping, China's top rice scientist, at his funeral in Changsha, Hunan province on May 24, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
A funeral to bid farewell to Yuan Longping, the "father of hybrid rice", was held in Changsha, Hunan province, on Monday, as President Xi Jinping sent wreaths and expressed condolences to Yuan's family.
Although Monday was a working day, thousands of people wearing black went to the Mingyangshan Funeral Home in the city for the funeral service at 10 am to present bouquets and bunches of rice plants to honor Yuan.
The top rice scientist, who developed the first high-yield hybrid rice strain in 1973, died of organ failure at age 91 on Saturday.
Yuan spent over five decades researching and improving hybrid rice, which has now reached its third generation, helping China make the outstanding achievement of feeding nearly one-fifth of the world's population with less than 9 percent of the world's total arable land.
People from all walks of life in China and abroad have expressed their condolences over Yuan's death, which indicated that his contribution to the hybrid rice industry has been widely recognized and highly praised, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.
Yuan Longping spent over five decades researching and improving hybrid rice, which has now reached its third generation, helping China make the outstanding achievement of feeding nearly one-fifth of the world's population with less than 9 percent of the world's total arable land
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His death is a great loss to China and the world, and he will always be remembered, Zhao said, adding that Yuan belonged not only to China, but to the world.
A black banner with the Chinese characters "Mourning for Comrade Yuan Longping" was displayed in the funeral home, and beneath the banner was a portrait of Yuan.
His body was surrounded by flowers and cypress branches, and was covered by the flag of the People's Republic of China.
Leading officials of Hunan, Yuan's colleagues and his friends attended the funeral service. They bowed to the body of Yuan and shook hands with his relatives to express condolences over their loss.
Outside the funeral home, the influx of mourners caused a traffic gridlock several kilometers long, prompting many to leave their vehicles to walk to the funeral service. Some mourners arrived by train from other cities to pay their last respects.
READ MORE: Hong Kong remembers Yuan Longping's key role in its prosperity
Deng Xianbing traveled with his wife and 2-year-old son by high-speed train from Guiyang, Guizhou province, to attend the funeral service.
"Neither my wife nor I had met Yuan Longping, but we wanted to thank him for his contributions and help to the world, the country, as well as our family. We wanted to thank him for letting us have enough food and a good life," the 35-year-old said.
"We also brought our son along because we wanted him to see this, and we want him to become a person who can make some contributions to society when he grows up," he added.
In a letter open to the public, Yuan's family members expressed gratitude to people who had visited the scientist when he was in the hospital, medical workers who had taken good care of Yuan and those who came to attend the funeral service on Monday.
"After our father's death, people from all walks of life spontaneously organized memorial activities, and as his family members, we truly felt the respect and love of everyone for him," they wrote.
"When our father was alive, he cared for us so much. He was a down-to-earth person who worked diligently, and his virtues deeply impressed us. We will benefit from them throughout our whole life. …Dear father, don't worry about us. We'll take good care of our mother, educate the younger generation and take action to repay society," the family members wrote in the letter.
Zhu Youfang in Changsha and Xinhua contributed to this story