A family in China deployed a stranger to act as a ‘stand-in’ for the dead daughter of their ageing grandmother for 13 years to protect her from the shock of losing her only child.
He Fuyu, who recently passed away aged 100, was never told that her daughter died of cancer in 2003, as her family believed she would be overcome with grief.
Instead, they found a ‘replacement’ who would frequently call to catch up on family affairs and to wish her well at birthdays and Chinese festivals.
Cheng Jing, Mrs He’s granddaughter, told Chinese media that her grandma was very close to her mother, Cheng Congrong, who died aged 69.
“My mother cared for my grandma all the time before she passed away,” she told Guangming, a news portal run by the central government.
The mother had lived in Sichuan province, in China’s south-west, throughout her life.
The daughter had moved to the northern Shaanxi province, but had kept in contact, first with letters, and then regular phone calls.
The deception began ten months after Mrs Cheng passed away, as the family struggled to keep her death secret from her ageing mother.
The family featured in a local newspaper report where they appealed for a woman with a similar voice to the deceased daughter and who was willing to chat on the phone to Mrs He.
“Scores of people called me in two days, but when a woman called Chen Weiping called, I kew she was the one, said Mrs Cheng.
“Her voice sounded liked my mom’s as they both had a similar Sichuan accent.”
Ms Chen became familiar with Mrs Cheng’s voice through audio recordings that the family provided.
They also gave her ten pages of background information on the family, to help her maintain the charade.
Mrs Chen never asked for any money from the family, or expenses for the long distance phone calls, media reports said.
The ageing Ms He was suspicious when she first began making the calls, and also, shortly before her death.
The replacement daughter told media that she feared Ms He may have “learned the truth” over time.
But the family said that Mrs He developed a maternal relationship with Ms Chen that lasted for many years.
“Grandma worried a lot,” Mrs Chen said. “(She) even asked if someone was taking care of my mother.”
Additional reporting by Christine Wei.