Reading letters from the children he has supported, in which they call him "Dad," are the most enjoyable and happiest moments for singer Cong Fei, who is now confined to his sickbed.
The 36-year-old singer, also a volunteer worker of the city of Shenzhen, has spent at least 3 million yuan (US$360,000), nearly all his earnings from commercial performances, on paying the tuition fees of 178 children in poverty-stricken areas over the past 11 years.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in May, and the disease is already at the terminal stage.
One of the first things he requested after being diagnosed was that friends and family continue to fund the 100 students he has started to put through school.
"Most of them are primary school students now. If they can't keep on studying, what they can expect is a hopeless future. You must find ways to let them continue their education." Cong said.
It is hard to trace back Cong's decade-long care for the youngsters as much of what he has done has not been reported. His first donation began at a charity performance for children who returned to school after dropping out in Southwest China's Chongqing in 1994.
Seeing several hundreds of the dropouts sitting in the auditorium, Cong donated all 2,400 yuan (US$290) he had on him without hesitation. He was shocked to learn that the money could help 20 children complete two years' education and realized how significant the donation was to the children.
From then on, he actively took part in more than 20 charity performances in poverty-stricken areas in Guizhou, Hunan and Sichuan provinces.
He has also personally financed several children, making his charity list longer and longer.
Cong became popular as a tenor and a ventriloquist in a variety of cities. He could earn more than 100,000 yuan (US$12,000) a month from commercial performances, according to his agency.
Performances had to stop because of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) a couple of years ago.
To pay the tuition fees for those he had promised, he had to borrow from friends. By the end of July 2004, he was about 170,000 yuan (US$20,500) in debt.
And it was when he increased his workload to try and pay the debt that pains in his stomach started getting worse and his voice became affected.
In January, after six charity performances for the Asian Tsunami victims, Cong suddenly started coughing up blood and fainted.
"Some people can't understand my husband but in my eyes, his behavior was natural. His personality prompted him to help other people from poor situations," said his wife Xing Dan, who is five months' pregnant.
The 24-year-old former airline hostess supports her husband in everything. "You can't imagine how poor the families are. Many of them don't have enough food and in winter, they have only one quilt," she said.
"When the children saw Cong Fei, they were so happy that they hugged him, calling him father. At that moment, I could fully understand the value of my husband's devotion."
Extensive media reports on Cong and his devotion have placed him firmly in the limelight in the past two months. Li Hongzhong, Party secretary of Shenzhen, visited him in June and encouraged him to fight the disease so that he could, as his name hints, "fly again."
(China Daily July 5, 2005)