Saturation coverage in nation's media
The launch of Shenzhou-IX with China's first woman astronaut aboard generated saturation media coverage not seen since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the first manned space flight in 2003.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of national and regional newspapers on the mainland, including the China Youth Daily and the Shanxi Daily, carried the lift-off of the spacecraft on their front pages.
Others, ranging from the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News to the Dahe Daily in Henan, the Guizhou Business News in Guiyang and Changchun's City Evening News, used big, colourful graphics featuring pictures of the three astronauts to accompany articles on the launch on their front pages.
In comparison to the nearly 300 domestic newspaper reports on the launch of the Shenzhou-VIII spacecraft on November 1, there were more than 450 reports on yesterday's launch, according to Wisers.net, a Hong Kong-based newspaper clipping searching engine.
In the electronic media, several CCTV channels, and regional broadcasters, ran special programmes featuring almost every detail of the mission hours before the lift-off. Hundreds of channels across the mainland were broadcasting live by the time Shenzhou-IX blasted off at 6.37pm.
At about the same time, the number of postings on social networking site Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, reached almost 34 million.
Observers have suggested that the country's first woman astronaut, Major Liu Yang, was moved up in the waiting list to burnish the Communist Party's credentials ahead of its 18th national congress, to be held in the second half of this year. She had been scheduled to be a member of the Shenzhou-X crew.
Zhan Jiang, a communications professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said he was not surprised by the move.
'One aspect that has attracted a lot of attention to this launch compared to others has been the inclusion of a woman astronaut. It has become a hot topic across the nation over the past few days, which, in turn, has contributed to the extensive coverage by both the print and electronic media.'
Of the 34 million postings on Weibo devoted to the event, nearly 2.2 million mentioned 'Liu Yang' just before the launch.
But a search for her crewmates Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang resulted in fewer than 100,000 hits.
Zhan said the public enthusiasm was a distraction from the harsh economic realities the nation faced. 'Given there is little good news for the country this year, what with the slowing economic growth, authorities may be attempting to make use of this ground-breaking mission to stir up the public's spirit,' Zhan said. 'But I wonder how long this can last? Probably not too long.'