Meet Cui Mei Chen

Meet Cui Mei Chen. Beneath this smiling veneer lies an unimaginable sadness. Chen knows loneliness in a way few people have ever experienced it. As a child she wore tattered clothes and had little to eat. She was forced to eat food so bitter it was normally reserved for pigs. Her sister was sent off with strangers to a faraway village in search of food never to see each other again for 38 years. And, if that’s not enough, her parents left the country in search of a better life when she was just five, leaving her in the care of a cruel grandmother who soon died leaving her in the hands of a swindler who made off with the funds meant to raise and educate her. From the time she was 5 she would just see her mother once more, and never saw her father again at all.

So, why is she smiling? Because in less than two months SHE HOPES TO MEET HER BROTHERS AND SISTER FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME IN HER 82 YEAR LIFE! Her Chinese parents had five more children, all born and raised in Malaysia. Five full-blooded brothers and sisters from the same parents who she has long known exist, but has never met. Brothers and sisters who she lost touch with nearly 40 years ago and was unable to find. Today, we ask for your help in making her dream come true.

(If you can help donate just a few dollars for Mei Chen’s to finally be reunited with her family it would be amazing. If not, you can also share the following link, this would be a massive help too:



Chen’s amazing life story begins from her earliest memories. It was 1938 in a small village in the Guangdong province of China. Cui Mei Chen was just five years old when her parents left her and her sister in the care of their grandmother. It was an extraordinarily difficult time; the Chinese civil war was already in its second decade, and, in the last year, the Japanese army had taken control of much of the country to the north and east as the beginnings of World War II were just getting underway. The capital city, Nanjing, was destroyed and tens of millions were fleeing the country.

Chen’s parents knew they must move quickly when an opportunity to take a small boat to the safety of Malaysia was offered for a fee. They took what money they had and they paid for the chance to start anew in this new land 1800 miles away. But there was a catch. They could not bring their children.

It broke their hearts, but they felt it was safer for their daughters to stay behind. They knew starting a new life in a new country would not be easy. There would be no time for taking care of toddlers.

Making matters worse, they had heard stories of crying children being thrown overboard by intolerant strangers on these overcrowded vessels that trafficked people over turbulent waters. Taking the children was not an option. The two girls would stay with their aging grandmother.

Perhaps had times been different, the parents would have come to collect their daughters soon thereafter. But, Japan was tightening its grip on China and the war had found its way to Malaysia.

This unexpected turn took the British administrators of Malaya (as Malaysia was then known) by surprise. They were busy defending themselves on the European front of World War II and all their armaments were focused there.

The Japanese invaders gained support among the ethnic Malays by presenting themselves as liberators from the British administrators. While the Malays were generally treated well by the occupying force, the Malaysian Chinese were viewed as enemies and were treated harshly during the occupation which lasted until 1945.

After the war, control of Malaya was returned to the British. Immigration policies became increasingly strict, and Chinese immigration was cut off. The window of opportunity for the family to reunite was, sadly, lost.

Not knowing if they would ever see their two daughters again, the parents decided to continue to build their family. While in Malaysia, they had five more children: three boys and two girls.


Meanwhile, in the small Chinese village, the two young girls continued to live with their grandmother during the war.

At one point, she told her granddaughters to follow some strangers to a far away village where more food was available. These strangers would be walking for days to reach this other village some 100 plus miles away. Little thought was given to the fact that the walk was too long, and there were dangers along the way. No concern was given to the possibility that the children could be abused or sold into slavery.

Chen’s older sister went with the strangers while Chen refused to leave her ailing grandmother. The sisters would not meet again for nearly four decades.

It was just Chen and her grandmother now, and the grandmother was beyond strict, she was unkind to Chen. Although she had sufficient rice to feed her, she would make Chen eat foods made with the roots of the banana tree and the leaves of yam; bitter ingredients normally fed only to the pigs. She was growing old and was not a well woman.

With her grandmother’s health deteriorating, when Chen was just eleven, the worst finally happened. Her grandmother died. Cui Mei Chen was alone.

As was the case for most people in those days, the body of her grandmother was laid out in the house. The young girl had no place else to go. She slept in the one room house just a few feet away from the body of her dead grandmother for three days.

Chen’s parents received word that the grandmother had passed. They found a way to send money to a man in the village. They sent enough to cover five years of education and food for their 11 year old daughter. The man was entrusted to take care of the girl, to see to it she was fed and educated.


The man immediately put Chen to work on the farm and told her nothing of the money for her education. Chen would live alone in her deceased grandmother’s house with no heat and insufficient clothes for the frigid winters. She would shake from the cold as she tried to sleep.

Working outside every day in the rain and the cold, she was continuously sick for three years. By the time she was 16, she was working long hours in the fields.

One day, while doing the punishing work of lugging heavy buckets of water from a well, she was crying. The wife of the man who was entrusted with her care yelled at her. She shouted that if she was going to cry she could not go home.

Later that day, while in tears, a village woman told her that, as a 16 year old, she could live independent of these people; that she should have been going to school. It was not until then that Chen learned that her parents had sent money for this purpose years earlier.

The man who had been entrusted to care for her had spent the money and taken the significant reserves of rice the grandmother had left behind.


When she was 18, Cui Mei Chen met a man 11 years older than her from another village. She married him and finally left the small village of her grandmother’s home. They were very poor when they got married, with one very old wooden table and two broken chairs as their only assets. But it was a fresh start for her.

She had heard nothing of her sister in many years, and she had little contact from her parents. But, her husband was well respected in their new community, and they had 8 children together: seven girls before finally having the prized son.

It was 1965. Nearly 30 years had passed since Cui Mei Chen had been left behind with her grandmother. And change had come over Malaysia. Different factions finally agreed to work together and form a new government. Malaya had become Malaysia. For the first time in years people could once again leave the country.

Chen received a letter from her mother. She was coming to China to see her daughters. But Chen’s older sister was nowhere to be found. Chen hadn’t seen her sister in more than 25 years, and no one knew where to reach her for this momentous visit.

By the time her mother came, Chen had had 6 of her 8 children. Their invitation to join them in Malaysia came too late. Her family was settled. She wouldn’t be joining her parents in Malaysia.

Over the next 12 years, a few letters were exchanged between Chen and her parents’ family in Malaysia. She had brothers and sisters she had never met, but, the letters and a few pictures told her something of their lives in that distant land. Occasionally the family in Malaysia would send money to their Chinese sibling. But that would all change with the passing of the parents.

The last letter came from her brother informing her of the death of her mother some months prior. After that, the letters stopped coming, and, busy lives being what they are, everyone lost touch. Malaysian family members moved around, and in the 1980’s the government of Malaysia began renaming all the roads. Over time, the old Malaysian addresses on the letters from just a few years ago were meaningless and undeliverable.


All had been going fairly well for Cui Mei Chen until 1975 when her husband sustained a major injury while at work. The wound to his chest was debilitating, and, as his condition worsened over time, the family had no choice but to spend all their money to care for their father and husband. With the man of the house unable to work, there was little to sustain this large family. The children were without shoes. The cupboards were bare.

In China at that time, a daughter was of little value in the economics of supporting a family. This family had 7 daughters, and the only son was just five. Ultimately, Cui Mei Chen’s husband passed away in 1985. Once again alone, she was just 52.

Chen’s parents were gone. Her father, who left for Malaysia three years before her mother, had never seen her again since she was two. Her mother, who came to visit her in China in 1965, had only seen her once since she was five. She had three brothers and two sisters living in Malaysia, and, she had never met nor even spoken with any of them.

She had received a handful of letters from those siblings over the years, a few photos, a few stories, but, the tones of their voices remained a mystery. Who were these people? What were their lives like? They had their whole lives with her parents, yet, all she had were distant childhood memories.

What could they tell her about her parents? Who they were? What they were like? What made them happy or sad? Every day, no — every moment of every day, the absence of her family was felt. With her husband now deceased, it became her true dream that one day she might find her siblings. But this dream never seemed more out of reach.


A change came over Chen’s situation in 1994, when her sixth daughter married a Chinese man living in America. With his citizenship, her daughter, too, would one day become a citizen. When that happened five years later, her daughter sponsored Chen to come to the United States. Cui Mei Chen immigrated to the United States in 2001.

Chen herself became an American citizen in 2008. Life in San Francisco’s Chinatown was certainly better than any life she had ever known. Yet, something was still missing. The 50 year old photo of her Malaysian family, prominently mounted at her bedroom dresser, always gave her a sense of connection, but, was also a constant reminder of the gaping hole in her spirit.

Somehow Cui Mei Chen always held on to her hope that one day she would be able to find her brothers and sisters. But how could she? All she had left were a few 40 year old letters with obsolete addresses.


She would talk with her daughter from time to time about this family of hers in Malaysia; about her wish to find them and meet them just once. But, for years, this was little more than talk.



This last year, Cui Mei Chen’s number six daughter used her friends and resources in a world without war to find her mother’s brothers and sisters. Persistence and patience along with modern technology and the ease of global travel all came together to accomplish what seemed impossible just a few months earlier. Through the kindness of a few individuals and a few miraculous circumstances, Cui Mei Chen’s siblings in Malaysia were found!

There have been a few phone calls, but, the siblings, have yet to meet. And that is the reason for our project. We are hoping to bring Cui Mei Chen to meet her surviving siblings, one sister and three brothers, in Malaysia at the end of March, 2015. That’s less than 6 weeks from now!

This time was chosen because the family in Malaysia had already planned to make a pilgrimage to the burial place of their parents. We are hoping to join them.

This will likely be the only time in her life that Cui Mei Chen will be in the presence of her siblings, and the first time she will be near both her parents in 80 years.


We need your help to get Cui Mei Chen to Malaysia to meet her remaining sister and three brothers!

All the remaining brothers and sisters (2 have already died) are in their 70’s and 80’s, and this will likely be the only chance for all of them to meet. This will be their first meeting, and, most likely their last.

Chen’s dream is to make it to Malaysia and make one last visit home to China. Her 8 grown children want to support her in this emotional journey, but they’re all overworked and underpaid. Pulling together the resources to join her is tough for some, and impossible for others. Already, some have said they can’t come. Cathay Pacific’s website says the trip will be $1200 per person. So, the costs are enormous for a large family.

We’re just hoping we can help cover part of the costs, because we can’t send an 82 year old woman to Malaysia alone!

This is no small trip. The trip from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur will take in excess of 20 hours!

Our original idea was to crowdfund a documentary video to capture this woman’s amazing story so we could share it with the world. But, upon further research, we see that would cost in the 10’s of thousands. So, we’ve decided just to try to get some help paying for the airfares.

Our goal for this GoFundMe campaign is $1200, enough to cover Cui Mei Chen’s airfare.

Please help us make Cui Mei Chen’s dream come true!


FULL DISCLOSURE: The writer of this article is the fiance of Cui Mei Chen’s #6 daughter. Cui Mei Chen doesn’t have the language skills or the ability to run a campaign like this on her own. Her daughter, who came to America from China when she was in her 30’s, never heard of crowdfunding until I suggested it for this situation. My role in the campaign is only as author and organizer. Cui Mei Chen’s daughter will receive and distribute the proceeds of this campaign on behalf of her family.


Below is the 50+ year old photo Cui Mei Chen keeps near her dresser. The most up-to-date photo she had of her family until last year. Her siblings, standing behind her parents are all in their 70’s now.



If you can help donate just a few dollars for Mei Chen’s to finally be reunited with her family it would be amazing. If not, you can also share the following link, this would be a massive help too:

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