Scholar, teacher, visionary, Christian, great-grandfather. Born Sept. 27, 1910, on the island of Bangka, Indonesia, died Jan. 12, 2013, in Toronto of natural causes, aged 102.
In a life that spanned 102 years and five countries, Li Hsing Hsiao found his roots in Canada in 1976, along with three of his five children and their families, from grandchildren to great-grandchildren.
He was a devoted husband to Se Chih. The couple’s fathers had been good friends who decided that if their first-born children were of the opposite sex, they would be married. When Hsing Hsiao was 3, Tang Se Chih was born, and this baby girl would become the longest and most significant relationship of his life as friend, wife, mother of his children and soul mate.
Their first meeting was less than romantic: The Tangs had brought their newborn daughter to visit the Li family, and while the adults were talking in the sitting room, little Se Chih starting crying. Hsing Hsiao, having only been exposed to baby kittens, grabbed his future wife by the back of her neck and brought her to the adults, announcing: “The baby is crying.” Needless to say, the adults were not happy.
As a boy, Hsing Hsiao was known to be stubborn. Once, his mother sent him to kneel outdoors as punishment. Before long, it started to snow. Eventually, his mother sent a family member to ask her son to come in. But he refused, saying he would only relent if his mother came out herself. Hours passed. Snow continued to fall around him, and various other family members pleaded with him to come in. Eventually his mother relented, but only after an eight-hour standoff.
Hsing Hsiao and Se Chih’s children were born in China, Malaysia and Singapore. The family moved many times between 1933 and 1947 due to the Japanese invasion of China and the Chinese civil war, which resulted in the Communists taking power in 1949.
While in Malaysia, the couple were actively involved in raising funds for the anti-Japanese struggle: Se Chih acted in public dramas denouncing the Japanese. Hsing Hsiao decided to return to China in 1939, even though the Japanese were still there, foreseeing that they would also invade Malaysia, and figuring correctly that it would be easier to hide in the vastness of China.
They settled in Singapore in 1947, leaving behind great wealth to escape the incoming Communist regime. There, Hsing Hsiao worked as a teacher and, despite his modest salary, was able to put his children through university.
They immigrated to Canada in 1976. Before settling into a life of routine, he had one more extraordinary contribution to make: In 1981, he was invited to China for the 70th anniversary of the Xinhai revolution, in which his father had been a key general. When he found himself in front of Deng Xiaoping, a top leader at the time, he passed Deng a letter pleading for the exoneration of his brother on charges of being a traitor. This brother had spent time in a re-education camp 28 years earlier, and had been unable to find paid work ever since. Following the delivery of the letter, his case was investigated and he was exonerated.
Yvonne Chin is Li Hsing Hsiao’s granddaughter.