Today, Tsien is known to millions of people in China. News photographs show him as an elderly and revered figure, typically surrounded by distinguished military officials at important ceremonies. He is a plump man in his eighties with a rounded face, bald pate, wrinkled and age-spotted skin; a thick pair of glasses sometimes rests on the tip of his nose; excess weight bulges through his green military uniforms. He is as much of a household name in China as Wernher von Braun was in the United States.
His personal life, however, remains a mystery Only a handful of his most intimate friends have the opportunity to see him in the privacy of his living quarters, and even for them the meetings rarely occur more than once a year. Usually, they see Tsien only during the annual New Year's parties held in his home. No one dares to call on him casually A visit to the Tsien home entails talking to the guards who protect the exclusive residential compound and filling out numerous forms. Even Zhuang Fenggan, one of his closest friends, who lives in one of the apartments in Tsien's compound, hesitates to knock on his door: if he has something to discuss, he waits until Tsien comes out for his daily stroll.