Filial Son Returns Home to Be With His Dying Father

Cheng Jilai, a 24-year-old Chinese university student who stayed by his father's side during his father's final days.

Cheng Jilai, a 24-year-old Chinese university student who stayed by his father's side during his father's final days.

From iFeng and Tiexue:

Watching one’s father die

This is a real life version of the To Live story. His wife having died early, Cheng Yixing relied on his two farm-working hands to “drag up” [raise] his three children. Seeing his two daughters marry, his son enter university, and having established a new family with a woman 10 years older than himself, Cheng Yixing was about to begin his happy life. However, owing to overwork, he collapsed from exhaustion. As doctors handed Cheng Yixing’s the “death penalty”, his son in his second year of university, Cheng Jilai, came to accompany his father to finish his last days. [click images to enlarge]

Cheng Jilai showing the coffin he purchased for his father.

Cheng Jilai used the 3000 yuan of tuition money he earned from work to buy a coffin, gathering money from wherever he could to prepare for his father’s final expenses. What will he do in the future? He hasn’t yet had time to think about it. This 24-year-old young man and his father, are like many Chinese people who live in the lowest levels of society, living in silent perseverance. “My father’s heart could stop beating at any moment, his remaining time calculated in minutes and seconds. I often dream of my father rising from the dead, but this is only a fantasy in a dream, and my only wish is to be with my father in his final days,” Cheng Jilai said while using smashing blue touch paper [paper used to light coal and start fires], a black coffin placed beside him. This coffin was purchased with the 3000 yuan tuition money he had saved from working while in college.

Cheng Jilai, a 24-year-old Chinese university student who stayed by his father's side as he succumbed to rectal cancer.

24-year-old Cheng Jilai is from Yingsheng village of Zhangjiatownship in Zhenan county [of Shanxi province]. In 2010, his gaokao college entrance exam score was 492 points, just a few points away from a “second-batch” university. Because of his impoverished family financial situation, unable to bear expensive tuition costs, Cheng Jilai ultimately chose to Xi’an Aeronautical University, borrowing 6000 yuan to enter the school. Cheng Jilai is the youngest child of the family, with two older sisters, his mother having died of cancer in 2000, Cheng Jilai having just turned 12 that year. These past few years, his father Cheng Yixing was both father and mother in bringing up his three children. His two sisters only graduated from primary school before each of them got married. His father’s greatest wish was to see his son get into university, and bring honor to his ancestors.

Cheng Yixing, bed-ridden from anorectal cancer.

Cheng Yixing is 56 years old, his body simply worn out from exhaustion, where simply getting up to do work during hot weather being difficult. When Cheng Jilai attended high school, it was at a county town hundreds of kilometers away, making it impossible for him to normally help out at home. Only during summer and winter vacations could he help his father with some farm work. Even in this situation, his father feared his son overworking his body, and only allowed Cheng Jilai to do some easy farm work. Every time he saw his father breathless with beads of sweat on his forehead working with the ground, Cheng Jilai’s heart was especially pained. Cheng Jilai felt his father should start a new family, an idea his sisters also approved of, but their father refused. He said he’s already a 50 year old man and as long as his children are good and have a future, he’s satisfied.

Chen Yixing's second wife and Cheng Jilai's stepmother.

Cheng Jilai found some village elders to ask around on behalf of his father, and ultimately with these elders playing matchmaker, Cheng Yixing and a woman 10 years older than him started a new family in the 12th lunar month of 2008. This woman’s husband had passed away several years earlier and had no children. After the marriage, the stepmother and the family got on well. Cheng Jilai said that upon seeing this, they, the children, all felt more at ease [for their father].

A rural Chinese farmer's son returns from university to take care of him in his final days.

But a good thing doesn’t last forever and Cheng Yixing soon began having health problems. He didn’t want to spend money to go to the hospital for an examination and so did not even know what disease he had. 2011, after Spring Festival, Cheng Jilai accompanied his father to a hospital in Changan district of Xi’an city for an examination. It was rectal cancer, and the doctor said surgery was necessary. The lab test results were retrieved by Cheng Yixing himself and he did not tell [the result] to his children, telling them that he only needed to rest to get better. In truth, Cheng Yixing was very clear on the state of his illness, but he just wanted to wait until after harvesting his wheat. But after his wheat was harvested, Cheng Yixing saw that his kitchen was collapsing, and so borrowed 6000 yuan from others to build a new kitchen. Within a few short months, after taking care of various major and minor matters at home, his body thoroughly fell apart at the end of the year. 2011 December 14th, his daughter hurriedly transferred Cheng Yixing to a hospital in Changan district of Xi’an. With the lab results in hand, the doctor rebuked them for coming to the hospital so late. Only then did Cheng Jilai learn of his father’s illness, an unspeakable sadness in his heart.

Cheng Yixing, a rural Chinese farmer suffering from anorectal cancer lies on a bed in his home as his daughter and son take care of him in his last days.

When the treating doctor learned of Cheng Yixing’s family financial situation, he told them frankly that the cancer cells had already spread, that surgery now would only temporarily delay the disease, and the probability of a cure with more money spent on treatment was small. Cheng Jilai understood the doctor’s meaning, and on 2012 January 30th, Cheng Yixing returned home to Zhenan county after spending 45 days in the hospital.

Son Cheng Jilai next to the 3000 RMB coffin he had purchased for his father's burial.

Three days after returning home, the village elders paid a visit, with everyone expressing pessimistic, that a coffin should be prepared as soon as possible. Cheng Jilai went to the market and learned that a coffin would cost 3800 yuan at the least. The eldest sister went home to do work for her father-in-law, asking if they could purchase her father-in-law’s [already purchased] coffin. Her father-in-law was also seriously ill and confined to bed, not much better than her own father, but her father-in-law still agreed to sell this coffin to Cheng Jilai for the low price of 3000 yuan.

The 3000 RMB coffin that Cheng Jilai purchased from his older sister's father-in-law for 3000 RMB.

Cheng Jilai had started working ever since he was in high school. While away at university, his monthly living expenses were at least 500 yuan. His father and sisters put together 200-300 every month, with him having to work to earn the remainder. These few years, he has gone to construction sites, worked as security, been a street peddler, and has managed to save up over 4000 yuan bit by bit over the past few years. He was going to use this sum of money to pay for tuition, but regardless of how difficult it will be, he wants to buy a coffin for his father, to do right by a father who had raised him. And so, the money Cheng Jilai had worked so hard to save up over several years was exchanged for a coffin, and with the 100 yuan cost of transportation, a total of 3100 yuan was spent.

The 3000 RMB coffin that Cheng Yixing's son purchased for his burial from his daughter's father-in-law.

During transport, some of the paint on the coffin was carelessly chipped off, which Cheng Jilai is still upset over, blaming himself for not being able to do even this right, and having to spend more money. In reality, he feels guilty inside for buying his father a coffin with a blemish.

24-year-old Cheng Jilai at a pharmacy to buy anesthesia for his father suffering from anorectal cancer.

When the new school semester began, Cheng Jilai took a leave of absence in order to take care of his father at home. When his father was discharged from the hospital, the doctor provided a medical prescription. Considering how expensive the medicine was, his second sister who works in Xi’an specifically went to a medicine drug wholesale market to buy the medicine, where it is cheaper than ordinary pharmacies. Every time the medicine is purchased, they rely on a long-distance bus driver to carry it to the county town where they then ask someone to bring it home. Photo is of 2012 March 21st, in Zhenan county of Shanxi, where Cheng Jilai is in a pharmacy looking for anesthetic medication.

Cheng Jilai and his older sister washing their father's emaciated leg and swollen foot.

Cheng Jilai naturally became his father’s “treating doctor”, everyday responsible for cleaning his father’s wound and changing medicine. What his father uses most often is an “anorectal pouch”, which must be changed once or twice every day. In order to save on expenses, the pouch Cheng Jilai purchased is the cheapest, 7 yuan each, while high quality ones cost 22.9 yuan. According to common pathology knowledge, sterilized cotton must be used when changing medicine for a sick person, but he can’t afford sterilized cotton, so Cheng Jilai carefully uses toilet paper every time to clean and wash [his father’s] wound. Because his the excretion of waste in his father’s body, a large amount of toilet paper must be used to wipe and clean, requiring at least 2 rolls of toilet paper every day.

Cheng Yixing, suffering from anorectal cancer, grimaces in pain as his son changes his medicine.

Every time medicine is changed, the pain for his bed-ridden father is unbearable, gritting his teeth, from time to time screaming: “Let me die faster, so my children are released from this.” Every time he hears his father groan, Cheng Jilai is unable to stop his tears from flowing onto his father’s emaciated body. “We don’t have money to buy anesthesia, and the pain medication is already ineffective, and we can only watch our father suffer,” Cheng Jilai says.

Cheng Jilai, a 24-year-old university student who has returned home to take care and be with his father during his last days.

In school, there are female schoolmates who like Cheng Jilai, but Cheng Jilai has never dared to entertain the idea of dating. A girlfriend requires money, and he doesn’t even have the money to buy some snacks to win the favor of a girlfriend. Cheng Jilai is 1.73m tall, and is just over 50kg clothed, while his bed-ridden father Cheng Yixing is already so thin he is not much heavier than a bag of noodles, having gained a bit of weight only because his two legs have recently swollen very large.

Cheng Jilai goes to claim a reimbursement for his father's medical care expenses.

March 21st, with his father seriously ill, Cheng Jilai and his older sister arrive for the 5th time at the rural cooperative medical handling center in the county town to ask if their father’s [government provided] medical care money has arrived, because they urgently need money at home.

Cheng Jilai goes to claim a reimbursement for his father's medical care expenses.

Upon learning of the situation, the handling center’s head Kou Zhengping disbursed the medical care money for Cheng Jilai’s father early.

Cheng Jilai counting the 4000 RMB reimbursement and subsidy from the government for his father's medical care costs, only 40% of the total.

The medical care money can only reimburse/subsidize 40%, and the over 10,000 yuan medicine purchased is not within the costs that can be reimbursed. 12,020 yuan was spent for the hospital stay and treatment, with only 4326 yuan ultimately reimbursed.

Cheng Jilai signing the medical bill to confirm receipt of the government reimbursement and subsidy.

Cheng Jilai receiving the 4326 yuan medical care money for his father’s stay in the hospital, signing the medical bill.

Cheng Jilai buying a set of burial clothes for his dying father.

For the Cheng family, this sum of money is too important and too timely. Cheng Jilai spends 630 yuan buying a complete set of burial clothes at a burial clothes store. However his father’s feet are so swollen, he has asked an older woman in the village to custom make a pair of cloth shoes.

Cheng Jilai buys a set of cotton knitwear for his father.

At a clothing wholesale market, Cheng Jilai walked around for a long time before daring to enter, until suddenly seeing a clothing store put out a 20 yuan for sale sign.

Cheng Jilai buys a set of cotton knitwear for his father.

He immediately made a beeline for this clothing shop, and after bargaining, he ultimately bought a set of cotton knitwear for his father for 40 yuan. Cheng Jilai says has to be given to his father to wear while he still has a breath of life, first warming it up on his own body before giving it to his father to put on.

Cheng Jilai buys a fish from the wet market to cook his father's favorite fish soup.

Afterward, Cheng Jilai arrived at a wet market and spent 19 yuan to buy a 1.2kg grass carp fish. He says his father normally loves drinking fish soup, but after falling ill, had only had fish soup once while in the hospital in Xi’an.

Cheng Jilai feeds his father some of the fish soup he has prepared, but his father can only manage two spoonfuls.

The next morning, Cheng Jilai feeds his father the fish soup he had stewed, and the dying Cheng Yixing could only manage two spoonfuls before he could swallow no more.

Cheng Jilai walks by the remaining pig of the family, the other one having been sold earlier.

To provide medical treatment for Cheng Yixing, the family has already spent all of their savings. Of the two pigs they had kept, one small pig that was not yet fully grown had already been sold when Cheng Yixing entered the hospital. Now there is still one old female pig, which Cheng Jilai plans on selling, but Cheng Yixing refuses to let anything be sold, and that after one more month, this pig can give birth, so selling it now would be a pity. Cheng Jilai says he’s useless, having already borrowed money from relatives and only raising over 20,000 yuan.

Cheng Jilai at his father's home, made of mud bricks.

Indeed, this family is too poor, and the house is even made of mud bricks, so who would be willing to lend money to them? However, an uncle promised he will give 5000 yuan when the father dies, “no matter what, the elderly must be buried”. The uncle is 38 years old this year and unmarried. This 5000 yuan was to be used to get married and start a family.

Cheng Jilai tries on some funeral attire.

Two elderly people in the village had passed away successively. Cheng Jilai gave a total of 300 yuan in gift money.

Cheng Jilai making funeral arrangements, knowing that his father doesn't have long left.

Seeing that his father’s days in the world are running out, Cheng Jilai prepares funeral arrangements.

Cheng Jilai making funeral arrangements, knowing that his father doesn't have long left.

Cheng Jilai and his dying father, Cheng Yixing, in a photo together during the father's final days.

During this time, Cheng Jilai and his father have slept in the same room, always by his father’s side. He knows his father is close to death, and may pass away at any moment. March 10th morning 1am, Cheng Yixing who had not left his bed throughout this time stubbornly got out of bed and step-by-step slowly moved towards the pigsty. On a window sill, he felt for a bottle. He held the bottle to his body planning to warm it a bit before drinking it. When he opened the bottle, the stinging odor of the agricultural chemical was emitted. Cheng Jilai was awakened by this odor. He jumped out of bed and upon seizing the bottle of agricultural chemical from his father, the two of them bawled in each others arms. Cheng Jilai says he doesn’t blame his father, as his father simply couldn’t take it anymore. Because they don’t have the money to buy anesthesia and the pain is unbearable, he wanted to end his life early, and lessen the suffering of his children. “It’s all my fault for being so young, unable to earn money, unable to lesson my father’s pain and suffering.”

Cheng Jilai crying over his dying bed-ridden father.

March 21st evening, Cheng Yixing knows he’s about to die. This life of hard work, this man who has never been lazy or complained, still worries about his only son. Calling his son over before him yet again, he instructs him: “6000 yuan is still owed for building the kitchen, it must be paid back, you must take care of your mother (stepmother), you must study hard.” Cheng Jilai could only hold back his tears and nod his head over and over again, knowing that these are essentially his father’s last words.

Cheng Yixing, a hardworking father, thin and emaciated in his last days, dying from anorectal cancer.

2012 March 27th, last night at 9:30pm, Cheng Jilai called this reporter and said his father has passed away.

Comments from iFeng:

凤凰网吉林省吉林市蛟河市网友: 见妞就抽

There are still tens of millions of families like this in China, what should we do? Donations isn’t the solution, the solution is to enrich the people. Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s thinking has been partially realized, some have gotten rich first. However, those who have gotten rich first are not looking after those who have not yet gotten rich, and instead are using their money to bribe the government and exploit even more money from the poor.

凤凰网江西省南昌市网友: xiaolie123750

Tears have come.

凤凰网山西省太原市网友: 刘二万

The poor people in this world truly have it hard. Those rich people who squander money, those celebrities who indulge in lives of luxury, that coal boss in Luliang city of Shanxi named Xing Libin who used 70 million on his daughter’s wedding, if you have even a tiny bit of compassion, help the pitiful poor. Don’t be heartless rich people, can you reconcile that kind of extravagance with your consciences? Being charitable is the manifestation of a person’s character, dignity, and spirit.

凤凰网陕西省西安市网友: jun2010jun (responding to above)

We shouldn’t demand that all rich people go do charity. These are all things the government should be doing, and we should demand the government to go do these things, and we should even more not hate the rich, because their wealth was obtained through the government’s rule.

凤凰网四川省乐山市网友: 趾环王归来

Very heartbreaking, poor father, he was only 50-some years old. What was the local government doing? Those coal bosses who spend over 70 million to marry off their daughters, those hosts and celebrities who flatter and toady up to the rich…when you see this news, what are you thinking? 70 million versus several thousand kuai to save a life, to buy a coffin… China’s GDP I think is just a fairy tale…

凤凰网湖北省武汉市网友: 斌雪荣化

In this fickle and scatterbrained society, when we promote and discuss building, developing, and surpassing, can we calm down for a moment and look at this, and think for a bit? Perhaps then we should know what we truly should be doing.

凤凰网上海市浦东新区网友: yuyw

A father is a family’s backbone, the tree of the family. To be a father is to only have responsibility, without asking for return. Fathers, at any time and when making any decision, do not complain or regret. Strongly request the government open more charitable nursing homes, and do more good works.

凤凰网江苏省网友: 手机用户

Couldn’t hold back my tears. I thank God for bestowing upon us such great parents! Young guy, study hard and live a good life as only that would be doing right by them [your parents]!

凤凰网湖北省武汉市网友: xjmlsh

The people cannot afford to raise children, cannot afford to fall ill, cannot afford homes, cannot afford to go to school, and even cannot afford to eat food and wear clothes.
The irony is that the country actually is rich, quite rich…

凤凰网中国网友: 手机用户

Uncle Cheng, may you rest in peace, you are a good person, and the door of heaven opens for you! Your son will definitely have a future, because God is fair!

凤凰网湖北省武汉市网友: 西贡的夜晚

When it comes to this kind of family, I’m truly without words. Other than shedding tears, there is truly nothing I can do to help these people who live on the lowest levels of society. I can only beg Buddha to give these people a life without crushing poverty in their next reincarnation.

凤凰网宁夏网友: 牛牛哥哥

Very real, and also very common. For the ordinary commoners at the lowest levels, many of them have lives like this.

凤凰网山西省临汾市网友: sxhtgsh

Can’t help crying. Though those who live at the lowest levels are lacking in material things, they still have trust, and virtue and morality. May I ask: Why are such good people so poor? That they have to experience such torment? Do good things not happen to the truly good people?!!!

凤凰网福建省福州市网友: blue__sky

He’s wearing Adidas! Looks like he’s not such a good person after all!

凤凰网广西北海市网友: 不战则败 (responding to above)

Bah! You’re blind!! Are those genuine?? From top to bottom, from inside to outside, what clothes of value does this child have??

From KDS:

In China—Watching one’s father die!!!

After reading this, I was deeply moved. A life of such toil and still couldn’t afford a coffin. This is the real portrait of those who live on the lowest levels of society in China today. Thinking back to several days ago when a coal boss spend 70 million for his daughter’s wedding, people truly cannot be compared. I just want to say, who caused all of this…?
These photos are from iFeng. The original title was “In the World”, but I think changing it to “In China” would be more appropriate.

Comments from KDS:


And the country still has the face to go be one of the world’s great economies. Surpassing Japan in GDP, becoming the world’s second [largest economy], what JB use is all this?


There’s really no need for rural children to go to university. A university education these days is not the same as before.
Join the military, start working, even joining black society [organized crime] has more future prospects than going to university.


There are plenty of poor people in society. The key is in learning how to change one’s mentality.
No money? Then why are you going to university? Why are you going to high school!!!?
With this kind of family financial situation, since it is like this, after graduating middle school, they should go to a vocational school to learn a trade, to be a cook, an excavator operator, electrician, etc. After graduating, go out and work hard, go be a mechanic at a construction site. The money that can be earned isn’t little either. And it wouldn’t be so hard for a 24-year-old to take out several thousand kuai. After working several years as a mechanic at a construction site, come out and make some money, and you’ll have enough to build a brick and tile house in the countryside.
So, being poor is not to be feared, what is to be feared are people’s narrow thinking.


How come no one considered the issue of legalizing euthanasia? Allowing people their dignity, lessening their suffering in death, is respect for life.


If I were this kid, I bet I would’ve fallen apart already. I truly admire him.
[When I was] 24 years old, I didn’t know anything. It was an age of goofing off and chasing girls all day.


Quite heart-wrenching.
Those oh-so-wise people posting their oh-so-wise opinions,
can you shut your stinking mouths?
Euthanasia, why don’t you go die?
Don’t go to school, why did you want to go to university?
Everyone has bad luck/moments of hardship. Since you aren’t able to help them, please silently wish them well in your hearts!
Rather than standing on the sides giving direction and criticism thinking you are so brilliant!!!


Very realistic, a common situation in present-day China’s rural countryside. So, when encountering these YP, please be a little more forgiving. With their material lives still like this, we shouldn’t be too harsh towards their thinking and level of civility.


This kid truly doesn’t have it easy, what a filial son~ emoticon


I see people above saying criticizing them for having children when they have no money and I don’t think this is fair. After all, to have such a filial son, this old man’s life wasn’t in vain. The young guy is a good person.


If he didn’t have this boy, the old man would have died even more miserably. This child was a good child.



What do you think?

Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.


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