Yuan Dibao, the man who captured everyone’s hearts in China for his enduring love, has passed away peacefully in the arms of his wife Danny Li, the woman he lost for over half a century. He died at age 90 on Thursday in Xiamen, located in the southeastern province of Fujian, South China Morning Post reports.
Dibao’s death comes seven years after his union to his beloved Li in 2010, in a love story dubbed by many as “the purest in the world”.
Dibao and Li’s amazing tale started way back in 1953, when the pair first met and immediately fell in love in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, according to China Daily. Dibao was a medical student in Zhejiang Medical College when he first laid eyes on Li, a Russian language teacher. Born in Beijing from a Chinese art professor and a French mother, Li speaks multiple languages, including Mandarin, French, English, and Russian.
He recalled viewing her then as a “goddess walking in the wind” and couldn’t take his eyes off her. She, on the other hand, recalled viewing him as a handsome, brilliant student who impressed students and teachers alike. Despite being already married to a woman that his family had previously arranged for him, Dibao still found himself attracted to Li, so he put a great deal of effort into spending more time with her. They became very close, despite the social prejudice against student-teacher romantic relationships.
During a hiking trip in Hangzhou, Dibao sang a song to Li. Li replied with a song of her own, but it was in Russian so he did not immediately understand it. He memorized the words so that he could look up its meaning when he got home:
“Riverside in the field, flowers of strawberry blossom; a young man took my true heart, but I can’t tell him, and I can’t reveal all my heart.”
After realizing that she had developed feelings for him as well, he made the painful decision to tell her that he must stay with his wife and fulfill his duty as her husband. Heartbroken, Li left China during the Mao Zedong era and flew to France to live in Lyon.
For a brief period, they would still write to each other, but eventually, they lost contact during the Cultural Revolution when their letters began being sent back as undelivered. And for over 50 years, the pair lived their lives separately, without any form of contact. Dibao went on to raise three sons with his wife, who would later pass away in 1994 due to cancer.
A conversation with one of his daughters-in-law one day in 2010 would eventually bring a happy ending to the story of his lost love. Dibao was telling her about his regrets in life when his love for Li was brought up, and the daughter-in-law encouraged him to write a letter to Li’s last known address in France.
He did write the letters, five of them in total, which included one in Chinese to Li, and one letter to her relatives. The rest of the letters were to make sure one of the letters eventually reached her, in one way or another, even if he wrote that the address wrong. “I think the postman would have been really curious why this person sent five letters,“ he shared in an interview back in 2012. “He would probably have opened the letter and helped me to find Danny.”
The strategy worked — just 17 days after sending his first letter, Dibao got his reply. In her resposne, he found out that Li had remained single all those years. After 54 years of being separated with barely any contact, Dibao, then 82, proposed to Li, and she, then 83, accepted.
Four months after their long-awaited reunion, the couple made headlines across the country when they finally tied the knot as husband and wife on September 26, 2010.
“One day when we were young,
That wonderful morning in May,
You told me you loved me,
When we were young one day.”
Feature image via China Daily.