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Hu Cheng.The Globe and Mail

Hu Cheng: Husband. Father. Avid reader. Storyteller. Born Sept. 9, 1932, in Hujia village, Sichuan, China; died Dec. 28, 2017, in Montreal, of lymphoma; aged 85.

When his grandson asked how many years would make a long life, Hu Cheng replied: “Three hundred, because I would like to live long enough to find out what happens in the world.”

Hu Cheng, the youngest of three sons, was born to a family of peasants in rural Sichuan. At the age of 9, he passed an entrance exam to attend middle school but his parents could not pay the fees. Extended family and neighbours would raise the money needed to continue his education.

His life changed in the summer of 1949 when, upon returning to his village, he found his mother confined in jail. The Chinese Civil War was raging on, and he had been conscripted into the army without his knowing. Only by presenting himself to his superiors would his mother be released. Later, he would recall feeling forced to hide the sympathy he felt for those who were injured or killed. Upon his discharge, he was assigned to efforts to rebuild the country. And for the rest of his life, out of a need to understand what he had experienced, Hu Cheng read as much philosophy and literature as he could.

In 1958, a friend introduced him to Kang Aihua. After their meeting, he wrote in his journal: “I care for her as I have not cared for anyone else.” They married in 1960 at a steel purification plant where they were working and would remain together for 58 years. They celebrated by sharing a bag of tomatoes with their friends, a luxury during a time of great scarcity. The couple had three children, Xiaohong, Yehong, and Yonghong Hu Tremblett, and throughout the Cultural Revolution he worked in a managerial position at a state-owned construction company. At home, his children remembered him as the cook, sitting on a stool beside simmering dishes, holding a book in his lap or writing in a journal.

Eventually, Xiaohong and Yonghong Hu Tremblett, their first and third, would make Canada their home. Hu Cheng was devoted to his family and in 2000, now retired, he came to Brampton, then Ottawa, to live with his eldest daughter and look after his grandchildren. His wife was in poor health and chose not to accompany him. He made mouth-watering salted beef and noodle dishes, he fished during the summer, took long walks in the winter, and always brought home the groceries. He quit smoking at the age of 70. When his wife joined him in Canada in 2004, he would accompany her to the Chinese-Canadian seniors’ community centre to watch her dance. In 2009, Hu Cheng wanted to become closer to his Canadian family and became a permanent resident of Canada. To celebrate, the family cooked him a big meal and enjoyed hearing him share the good news with his friends.

When his grandchildren were old enough to understand, he began to tell them memories from his life. Through his stories we are still learning more about him each day. His presence is ever with us.

Jiameng Xu is Hu Cheng’s granddaughter.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide.

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