British physicist Stephen Hawking answers questions during an interview in 2007. Photo: Reuters/Charles W Luzier
British physicist Stephen Hawking answers questions during an interview in 2007. Photo: Reuters/Charles W Luzier

Many Chinese thought Stephen Hawking was the modern Albert Einstein who knew the secrets of the universe. But while millions of Chinese have mourned and paid tribute to him, some have tried to take advantage of his god-like status, but with a touch of humor.

A WeChat post that went viral on Wednesday hours after Hawking’s death was announced read: “Hi there, I am Hawking. Rumors on the internet said I was dead but I’m not. My soul is locked in a London laboratory where I can type this message to you through computing.

“Please send me £5,000 (US$6,989) so I can pay security to release me. When I get out, I shall teach you a thing or two about the universe and secret laws of physics. I would not mistreat you.”

And then came the tongue-in-cheek part: “My mobile number is my Alipay account number.”

Some Chinese mobile users received a message from someone who claimed to be Stephen Hawking. Photo: Weibo

Rest assured that this was not an Alibaba Group campaign, but a way of paying tribute to a great man who was highly respected in China.

Many Weibo users were, in fact, touched by the message. One posted: “He hasn’t left us. He has gone to where he belongs – the universe.”

The other most liked message in reply was: “Travel well, you are now in a parallel universe.”

In April 2016, Hawking started his Weibo page in China and gathered two million fans on its first day.

In the same year, he sent a message to millions of Chinese students who were taking the Gaokao entrance exam, the equivalent of the SAT exam.

He wrote: “Whether you aim to be a doctor, teacher, scientist, musician, engineer or a writer — be fearless in your pursuit of your aspirations.”

That immediately won him four million fans on Weibo because people appreciated the support and advice from the world-renowned scientist.

Hawking once told hundreds of people in Beijing: “I like Chinese culture, Chinese food and above all Chinese women. They are beautiful.”

When a 500-meter radio telescope started operating in southwestern China’s Guizhou province in September 2016, Hawking warned the Chinese not to reply if they received any messages from the universe. He said it may not be a good thing if aliens found the Earth.

Hawking was loved around the world, but the adulation and respect he commanded in China was perhaps in another universe.

“He will roam across the universe and its galaxies, and in the end will again become its brightest star,” said one Chinese Weibo user.

Another said: “He belongs to the stars, and has returned home now.”