One was a top politician in the world's most populous country. The other was a world-renowned physicist. For the past 18 years, a remarkable friendship has bound Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Nobel laureate Dr. Lee Tsung-dao.
On his 80th birthday, Dr. Lee flew to China for a high-profile science symposium to mark the Shanghai-born physicist's 60 years of scientific research.
Premier Wen Jiabao attended the symposium and delivered a congratulatory letter read to the 700 Chinese and foreign scientists and experts attending the event.
In a rare gesture of respect and lasting friendship, Wen walked into the lecture hall hand in hand with Dr. Lee.
"As a friend, I am very proud of Dr. Lee. His remarkable achievements and his contribution to the world is a source of pride for all Chinese people," Wen told the audience.
The two great men met in Beijing on October 24, 1988, when Wen accompanied the late Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to a state physics laboratory to which Dr. Lee had contributed.
By that time, Lee was already a famous scientist. He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1957 jointly with Chen Ning Yang for their penetrating analysis of the law of parity conservation, an analysis that led to a series of significant discoveries in particle physics.
Dr. Lee later exchanged correspondence with Wen, who took on responsibility for overseeing the country's scientific development in the early 1990s.
Wen always expressed respect and praise for Dr. Lee's contributions to science and his willingness to aid China's scientific development, said sources close to the leadership.
"For all these years, we have tried to meet at least once a year if we can," said Dr. Lee, noting that he and Premier Wen would talk about physics, philosophy, history, arts and especially the development of China's science and scientific education.
"Premier Wen listened closely to my advice on things like developing energy physics, improving the system of post-doctoral institutions, investment in science and scientific education for the young," Dr. Lee said.
Their friendship extends from work to life.
Wen and Lee are said to have exchanged greeting cards at every Chinese New Year for the last decade. Wen saved each and everyone of these cards on which Dr. Lee had drawn by hand the Animal of the Year.
"When two people treat each other with sincerity as genuine friends, status and titles are not that important," Dr. Lee told Xinhua. He said he was especially moved when he received Wen Jiabao's heartfelt condolences on his wife's death a decade ago.
Dr. Lee later sent his late wife's poems and paintings to Wen.
In 1998, Lee set up an educational foundation in his and his wife's name to fund physics education for Chinese mainland students.
At Friday's symposium, Premier Wen displayed a photocopy he received from Dr. Lee to the audience. The photocopy shows two of Dr. Lee's science manuscripts dated 1956 and 2006. The 1956 script was published in the 1957-edition of Physics Today in the United States.
Wen said he cherished the manuscripts very much since receiving them from Dr. Lee this June. "They embody Dr. Lee's continuous explorations in science for so many years," Wen told the symposium audience.