“Some lives are linked across time; connected by an ancient calling that echoes through the ages.” A man and a woman who met in 1953 reunited after more than half a century. Both unmarried and in their 80s, they finally wed.
On September 21, 2010, Xiamen Civil Affairs Bureau welcomed an elderly newlywed couple, 83-year-old Li Danni and 82-year-old Yuan Dibao. They had the sweetest smiles and happiness that infected everyone who attended the ceremony. The couple arrived with the help of one another.
Li Danni and Yuan Dibao are the perfect epitome of true love, and they have touched the hearts of many people. They met when they were in their early 20s, separated, and have not seen each other for 55 years. Time and age did not stop them from finding each other, even across oceans, they have finally reunited.
Zhejiang Medical College welcomed a new batch of freshmen students in September 1953. Yuan Dibao was one of them. At the time, Yuan, 25, was devoted to his studies. Foreign languages were his forte, and took Russian as his elective subject. Li Danni was also in the same class, and she was a half-Chinese-French teacher.
26-year-old Li Danni graduated from the Foreign Language Department of Zhejiang University and is fluent in English, French, Russian, and Chinese languages. She was the model teacher to many students. Young Yuan was immediately attracted to her due to her bright nature, beautiful eyes, and the way she dresses.
The feeling was mutual since Li Danni also noticed the intelligent boy sitting by the window, listening intently to his classes. He was Yuan Dibao. As his Russian classes progressed, Yuan became the representative of the subject, and he had more opportunities to communicate with Teacher Danni. Since Yuan’s interest lies in foreign languages, and English was not offered at the university at the time, Li Danni volunteered to teach him and asked him to come to her home every weekend.
Li Danni lived with her parents at the time and had lived in China since she was a child. Her father is Li Shuhua, a Chinese musician from Meixian, Guangdong. Her mother was French. Yuan Dibao is from Shanghang, Fujian. Incidentally, Yuan and Li Danni’s father are both Hakka Chinese people. He chats in the Hakka dialect with her father when he is at their home during English tutor. Fortunately, Yuan is well-liked by Li Danni’s family.
Li Danni and Yuan Dibao had many mutual interests, hobbies, and endless topics to talk about. At the time, their favorite song was One Day When We Were Young by Richard Tauber, from the 1934 American movie The Great Waltz. Together they would sing, “One day when we were young / That wonderful morning in May / You told me you loved me / When we were young one day.”
Unfortunately, Li Danni’s mixed-race background became a target of malicious-minded people, who called her a “bastard” since she was a child. Yuan Dibao often comforted and supported her, helping her ignore the gossip that pained her.
In 1955, Li Danni noticed that the liveliness has left Yuan’s face, and was filled with sadness. It turns out that Chengdu West China Medical College was going to merge with Yuan Dibao’s major. He would need to go to Chengdu to continue his studies which meant that he will be separated from Li Danni.
On the day before Yuan Dibao left for Chengdu, He revealed his secret to Li Danni, a secret that made him sad more than leaving for Chengdu. A month before he entered Zhejiang University, his sister had made marriage arrangements for him. He never met his future wife yet, so how can he love her? His sister is also wedded via a “fixed marriage” but is not sorry for her decision to marry the man. Since it was their family’s tradition, Yuan Dibao had to undergo the same fate.
Li Danni’s reaction was mature upon learning Yuan’s secret. She said, “I don’t have the right to build my own happiness on another woman’s misfortune and rob other people’s happiness. The result is unacceptable to me.” Upon returning home the same day, she told her mother about Yuan’s plans and how she reacted to the situation. Her mother agreed with Li Danni and said: “You were right about your decision. You have no place to destroy someone’s destiny.”
Since then, the two decided to become only friends, as close as brothers and sisters. Although she was hurting, Li Danni told Yuan Dibao: “You must take good care of your wife. Love should not be selfish, but rational and kind.” They turned and left, not looking back. It was respect and fulfillment for each other.
Li Danni and Yuan Dibao kept in touch for the next few months through letters. Although a year later, Li Danni left with her family by ship to France. Meanwhile, after his studies, Yuan returned to Xiamen and built a family with his wife, Huang Xiuxue. He loved and respected her, and gave most of his salary to his wife leaving him with only some pocket money.
Li Danni was now only a good memory to him, and he lived a good family life with respectable people around him. Yuan Dibao was a responsible man.
Years passed, and Yuan and his wife had 3 sons. He sent a family photo to Li Danni in France, accompanied by a letter reassuring her that he is happy with his family. Li Danni showed the photo to her mother, who admired the beautiful family Yuan has achieved. She told Li Danni, “Don’t worry, Yuan Dibao is living a very happy life now.” And Li Danni answered, “My heart has calmed down. I am no longer broken-hearted.”
Li Danni knew that raising children was not easy. Although Li Danni did not have much money, she still sent packages to Yuan in China containing powdered milk and toys for the children.
Li Danni’s life was not instantly happy and easy when she arrived in France. Her mixed-race status was the target of many people. Worse, her own French relatives. She only had the support of her grandmother through her difficult times. After 4 years, Li Danni acquired her French citizenship status and began working as a stenographer. She worked for 10 years as such to be able to support her family.
Li Danni could not forget her roots in China, where she grew up and decided to contribute to France about Chinese culture and heritage. She became an assistant Chinese teacher at the University of Lyon in 1973. At 53, she received a Ph.D. in Sinology, the study of Chinese language, history, customs, and politics, from the University of Paris VII. She became a tenured associate professor at the University of Lyon III. Postponing her retirement, Li Danni served as secretary-general of the China-France Association, promoting the cultural exchange between China and France.
Li Danni has remained single and unmarried, climbing the ranks in her career and flourishing. She had only one person in her heart, Yuan Dibao, though she respected his quiet family life and silently cherished her love for Yuan. On Yuan’s end, he had no idea of Li Danni’s situation in France. Correspondence between the two stopped in 1965. Since both of them were busy, they were not able to send any more letters to each other.
In China, Yuan Dibao always thought that he could live a long happy married life with his wife and 3 children. Unfortunately, in 1994, Yuan’s wife suffered from gum cancer. During her illness, Yuan stayed by her bedside, prepared all her soft diet food, and fed her during meal times. Still, he failed to save her life. At her wake, Yuan wrote an emotional eulogy of “good wife, good mother and good grandmother”. After her death, he refused to live with his eldest son and lived alone for 10 years, after which he decided to move in with his third son.
In those 10 years, he was alone. He lived a life of a recluse. All he did was eat, sleep, and waited to die. When a person reaches old age, there is nothing worse than enduring the loss of a lifelong partner. He no longer could hope for a better life.
Come 2010, Yuan Dibao’s nephew (his sister’s son) came to visit for New Year. He was sad to see his uncle’s appearance but tried to cheer him up. In between conversations, he accidentally mentioned his past with Li Danni. Ouyang Luying, Yuan’s daughter-in-law with his 3rd son, who heard about this for the first time, couldn’t help but be touched by the two old people’s friendship.
Ouyang eagerly asked her father-in-law, “Why haven’t you written a letter to her again?”
He replied, “I’m in my 80s, I don’t know if she’s still there, and all the letters I sent before have been returned.”
Ouyang encouraged him to try again, just in case Li Danni would receive the letter this time. Yuan Dibao did not reply and went upstairs to sleep. That night, they noticed that his bedroom lights were on the whole night. When Ouyang realized that people in France do not change addresses immediately, she persuaded his father-in-law to try writing to her old address in Lyon, France. So, he did. “I wrote 5 letters in both Chinese and English. If Li Danni can’t receive it, there is hope that the neighbors or relatives will send it to her.”
10 days later, Li Danni in France received his letters. She stood in the courtyard, feeling all kinds of emotions flooding back to her. Her face lit up with happiness and excitement.
Li Danni immediately replied and wrote about her current situation in France: “I have been alone for many years, and now I go to the monastery for lunch, and I don’t go out in the afternoon. When I can no longer take care of myself, I will choose to die in the monastery. “
Yuan Dibao was very excited to receive a reply from Li Danni, though he felt heartbroken upon learning her situation that she was never married and chooses to die in a monastery.
Upon learning about this, Yuan’s 3rd son and his wife encouraged their father to bring Li Danni back with him to Xiamen. “Mom has left. Do you still want to miss Teacher Danni?”
When Li Danni heard the news of the invite from Yuan, she immediately confided in a priest in the monastery. He replied: “It’s all God’s will.”
Finally, daughter-in-law, Ouyang went to France to fetch Li Danni and bring her to Xiamen. Yuan waited at the airport with 55 roses in hand. After 55 years, Li Danni and Yuan Dibao finally reunited. The two old friends hugged tightly and cried.
When they finally had the strength to converse, Li Danni said: “You haven’t changed. Your happy spirits are still here.” Di Bao replied: “You haven’t changed. You’re even more beautiful.” ❤️
On September 26, 2010, the two elderly people finally married. At the ceremony, the newlyweds were full of happiness. At the age of 83, Li Danni finally wore a wedding dress and married the man she loved the most.
Their married life was full of happiness and sweetness for one another. They defied their old age and cherished every moment they were together.
Due to hearing loss, Yuan Dibao had to speak close to Li Danni’s ear. On the other hand, Li Danni’s eyesight has deteriorated due to glaucoma, so she had to hold Yuan’s hand to walk. They hugged often and supported each other. “I am your ears. You are my eyes.”
Due to his poor hearing, Yuan Dibao had to speak loudly near Li Danni’s ear so he can hear his voice. Li Danni did not seem to mind his loud voice. It was like music to her ears.
When Li Danni asked, “Sweet, how did you feel when you kissed me?”
Yuan Dibao laughed and replied, “That’s sweeter than sweet. I just get carried away.”
Hand in hand, the elderly couple laughed together.
They sang their favorite song when they were young and remembered every word. “One day when we were young / That wonderful morning in May / You told me you loved me / When we were young one day.” Their years together were full of happiness and love.
Although in October 2017, after 7 years of marriage to Li Danni, Yuan Dibao passed away, but with no regrets and was very happy. A year later, Li Danni followed and passed away. Yuan’s children buried half of Li Danni’s ashes with Yuan Dibao in China, and the other half was picked up by her relatives in France and was buried next to her parents.