BEIJING, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- "The angel has gone back to heaven," remarked many Chinese upon learning of the death of Shirley Temple, the curly-haired child star whose smiling and dancing in 1930s films like "Bright Eyes" have lingered long in the memory.
Temple died of natural causes on Monday evening at the age of 85, and Chinese cyberspace has since glowed with fond recollections and tributes.
An inspiring icon in the dark early 1930s, she was the United States' top box-office magnet from 1935 to 1938 and was the first recipient of a special Juvenile Academy Award. A series of film hits made her known around the world.
While America remembers the legend credited by President Roosevelt as a source of "infectious optimism," Chinese people, including celebrities, are also missing their "forever little angel."
"She will always be an angel in my heart, and I will never forget the time my whole family sat on the couch watching her dance and sing... beautiful memories," wrote a netizen with the screen name "Yinyuezhisheng" on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.
Film star Li Bingbing said on Weibo that Temple's death was hard to accept. She wrote, "I was shocked... it seems she will always remain an angel in my mind, or maybe the angel is just going home."
Temple holds a significant place in China's moviegoing history. Her name first appeared in China in 1934 on a film bulletin for a Shanghai cinema. This advert publicizing Temple's films in Shenbao, the earliest Chinese newspaper, can still be found today in the Shanghai Film Museum.
But it was only in the late 1970s that Temple became a country-wide idol after she visited China as a diplomat.
In the 1980s, her films such as "the Little Colonel" and "Heidi" were among the earliest foreign movies imported to China, after the nation began to open up to the outside world. There were points where Temple's films seemed to be playing almost on a loop on Chinese TV.
For many people born in the 1970s and 1980s, Temple was more than an on-screen star; she was a close companion in their childhood, though she was by then a grandma in real life.
"My mother would do my hair just like Shirley's curls and I would bounce in front of the television to imitate her song and dance," wrote "Yu Xiaojiao," identified as a radio station editor on Weibo.
"Her success on the international stage as a diplomat is more inspiring and my parents often set her as an exemplary model for me," added Sina user "Even-ever."
In fact, Shirley Temple's contact with China could be dated back to as early as 1936, when she played a little girl from a Chinese orphanage in the movie "Stowaway." She spoke Mandarin and played erhu, a traditional two-stringed instrument in some scenes.
Liu Chunyan, a noted hostess on China Central Television, has dubbed several of Shirley's movies, including "Poor Little Rich Girl," for which Liu won an award in 1989.
She said it was a great honor to have spoken Shirley's lines, and that her loss brought sadness to the world.
"She provided comfort to the American people who endured much hardship in the age of Great Depression. Such a positive icon should also be shared by the whole world," according to Liu.