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He was born in Suizhong County in the Liaoning Province, an industrial area in Northeast China. Yang's mother was a teacher, his father an accountant at a state agricultural firm. Yang Liwei's wife is also a People's Liberation Army officer, with whom he has a son.
Growing up, his grades were average but he excelled in the sciences. He loved to swim and skate and shone in track and field events.
Yang was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1998 and has trained for space flight since then. He was chosen from the final pool of 14 Chinese astronauts to fly on China's first manned space mission. A former fighter pilot in the Aviation Military Unit of the PLA, he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the time of his mission. He was promoted to full colonel on October 20, 2003. According to the Youth Daily , the decision had been made in advance of his spaceflight, but Yang was not made aware of it.
He was launched into space aboard his Shenzhou 5 spacecraft atop a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 01h00 UTC (09h00 local) on October 15, 2003. Prior to his launch almost nothing was made public about the Chinese astronaut candidates; his selection for the Shenzhou 5 launch was only leaked to the media one day before the launch.
Yang punctuated his journey with regular updates on his condition - variations of "I feel good", the last coming as the capsule floated to the ground after re-entry. He spoke to his wife as the Shenzhou 5 started its eighth circuit around the Earth, assuring her from space: "I feel very good, don't worry". He ate specially designed packets of shredded pork with garlic and "eight treasure" rice (八寶飯), washed down with Chinese herbal tea. In the middle of the journey, state television broadcast footage of Yang waving a small flag of the People's Republic of China PRC and that of the United Nations inside his capsule.
State media said Yang's capsule was supplied with a gun, a knife and tent in case he landed in the wrong place.
Yang's craft landed in the grasslands of the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia at around 6:30 a.m. on October 16, 2003 (22:00 GMT), having completed 14 orbits and travelled more than 600,000 km. Yang left the capsule about 15 minutes after landing, and was congratulated by Premier Wen Jiabao.
Popular myth has it that the serpentine Great Wall of China, built more than 2,000 years ago to keep out marauding nomads, is the only man-made object visible from space. However, Yang told state television that he did not see the Great Wall from space.
In fact many man-made objects on earth such as cities can be seen from space, but the Great Wall is too narrow for a person to see from orbit.
Although the first Chinese citizen in space, Yang Liwei is not the first person of Chinese origin in space. Shanghai-born Taylor Wang flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-51-B in 1985. Wang, however, had become a United States citizen in 1975. Shannon Lucid was also born in Shanghai to American missionary parents, and Apollo 8 astronaut William A. Anders was born in Hong Kong, but neither were of Chinese ethnic origin.
Yang visited Hong Kong on October 31, 2003, holding talks and sharing his experiences during a six-day stay in the territory. Most observers viewed this as a propaganda visit, designed to raise support for the Mainland with anti-China sentiment running high in the former British colony. The visit coincided with an exhibition that featured his reentry capsule, spacesuit and leftover food from his 21 hour mission. On November 5, he travelled to Macau.
On November 7 Yang received the title of "Space Hero" from Jiang Zemin, the former Chinese President and Chairman of the Central Military Council (CMC). He also received a badge of honour during a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People.
The asteroid 21064 Yangliwei is named after him.
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