Chinese netizens were reluctant to say goodbye to Ai Fukuhara, a popular Japanese table tennis star who announced her retirement on Chinese social media on Sunday.
Speaking of Ai Fukuhara's retirement at Monday's routine media briefing, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying praised Fukuhara for her remarkable achievements in table tennis and her popularity in China.
Hua noted that the Chinese government hopes more people can contribute to promoting friendly communication and cooperation between the two nations.
The popular Japanese table tennis star announced Sunday on Sina Weibo that she decided to end her professional table tennis career, accepting a large amount of best wishes from Chinese netizens on her future.
The hashtag "Ai Fukuhara announced retirement" received 160 million views and over 70,000 comments as of press time.
Often called "Japanese doll" by Chinese fans, Fukuhara is very popular in China because she speaks fluent Putonghua with a Northeast China accent and has deep connections in Chinese table tennis circles.
Fukuhara participated in the China Table Tennis Super League and is close to Chinese athletes. Fukuhara has almost 4 million Weibo followers.
Many Chinese netizens said they were reluctant to say goodbye but still sent best blessings to "Ai Jiang," a nickname given by Chinese fans.
"The Chinese table tennis team will feel lonely," wrote a Sina Weibo user. "The friendship between China and Japan still needs you," another one said.
Fukuhara showed her gratitude in the post using Chinese, thanking the fans for supporting her, and Chinese teams for allowing her to train with them.
She also recalled the time she played table tennis in Northeast China's Liaoning Province and made friends with the Chinese table tennis players.
"The first time I went to China was when I was 5 years old. I still remember the delicious taste of fried bread sticks for breakfast," Fukuhara said.
News about Fukuhara's retirement erupted just before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official visit to China.