This Guy’s Grandma Hid A Photo Album For Years, But After She Died It Exposed Her Double Life

Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

When Leung Ping died at the age of 93, you’d have forgiven people for thinking that she’d led a relatively normal life. But she was a very private woman. And so it was only after Ping passed in February 2020 that her loved ones got a true glimpse into her past. When her grandson, Johnny Quan, finally opened an album that his grandma had hidden from him, the photographs inside left him stunned.

Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Yes, much of Ping’s life had always been somewhat of a mystery for Quan. He’d known the basics, of course: his grandmother had grown up in Shanghai during a turbulent time in China’s history but had nonetheless built a successful singing career for herself in her native city. And later, Ping had fled to Hong Kong and then Singapore before eventually retiring in the U.S.

Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Ping had even documented her life in a series of photographs spanning decades. But the woman had been reluctant to share these memories with her family. That’s why it wasn’t until after her death that her loved ones got to look through her precious snapshots. And the amazing pictures provided a fascinating window into what seemed like a whole other world.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Yes, Ping’s grandson, Quan, was astonished by what he saw in the secret photo album. Originally hailing from San Jose in California, he now lives in Dublin, CA. He’s an artist, illustrator and private art tutor, though the young man also plays music and has a particular passion for the rock and post-punk genres. And interestingly, Quan explained on Facebook that he gets his musical streak from his grandmother – even though she may not have shared his exact tastes.

Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny revealed on Facebook in May 2020, “We have a very musical family, actually, which probably started with my grandma.” That’s because Leung had established a career as a singer in her native Shanghai – becoming a famous shidaiqu vocalist in the 1940s and ‘50s.

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It seems that Leung continued to sing late into her life, and Johnny remembers his grandmother performing for him and his cousin when they were both small. In April 2020 he wrote on Facebook, “She’d also play the piano and make us all sing along over her Christmas parties too…”

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Leung performed the odd concert when Johnny was growing up, but for him, she was just grandma. He continued, “She was a very proud woman, but to me and my sister specifically and I think intentionally, [Leung] always came off as a simple, humble [grandmother]…”

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But it seems that Leung also had a tenacious side, too. A Facebook user asked Johnny what he was most proud of his grandmother for, and he replied, “My fondest memories are of her going to school with me and actually protecting me from bullies.”

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Johnny had decided to open up about Leung in the months after she died. As we mentioned earlier, she passed away from natural causes in February 2020 at the age of 93. And following her death, Johnny had sifted through countless photographs of Leung with the purpose of scanning them for her funeral.

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Interestingly though, many of the photographs Johnny came across following Leung’s death were completely new to him. In a self-penned piece published on the Bored Panda website in May 2020, he explained, “She was very private [with] these photos. I’d never seen them before she passed.”

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And it wasn’t just Johnny who’d been prohibited from viewing Leung’s photographs over the years. He revealed, “My aunt reflected how she once asked her if she could look at them, and she smirked, ‘You can look at them when I go.’” So, the family had needed to wait until 2020 before they could finally revisit Leung’s past.

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Johnny and the rest of his family were transported to another time and place completely when they viewed Leung’s old photographs. Many of the pictures – which were taken in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s – documented Leung’s successful singing career. But before we get to the secret album, let’s take a look back at her fascinating life.

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Leung grew up in Shanghai and was the family’s fourth child. She was musical from an early age – showing a particular aptitude for singing. Leung would later attend the prestigious Shanghai National Music Institute, where she studied vocal music, choral skills and piano.

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Leung’s time at the Shanghai National Music Institute provided her with the perfect foundation on which to build her singing career. She was signed to Pathé Records – which later became EMI Group – at the tender age of 15. As a result, she began to juggle her studies with a recording career. She sang in the shidaiqu genre: a Chinese folk and European jazz fusion that had its roots in 1920s Shanghai.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Leung enjoyed success as a shidaiqu singer; she had a number of hits during the period such as “Spring Does Not Come,” “My Youthful Days” and “Wang Zhaojun.” But the cultural landscape was about to change in China, and this form of music would soon be outlawed.

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Growing up in Shanghai, Leung had already experienced the hardships of the Second Sino-Japanese War which raged for eight years until 1945. At the end of World War II, China subsequently entered into a devastating four-year civil war. This conflict saw the Nationalist government go head-to-head with the Communists to gain control of the country.

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The Chinese Civil War came to its conclusion after the Communist leader Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China in October 1949. The Nationalists then eventually retreated to Taiwan following their defeat on the mainland. The cost of victory, though, was enormous; Communist figures cited 1.5 million dead and wounded in the People’s Liberation Army alone. Around five million civilians also lost their lives due to disease, famine, and combat.

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The Communist Revolution in China brought the so-called golden age of shidaiqu to an abrupt end. The genre was denounced as “yellow music,” with the color being a colloquialism for “pornographic” in the country. Shidaiqu was subsequently banned, and propaganda songs became the only officially accepted form of music.

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Leung’s art form was under threat, and she relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong during the early 1950s. The special administrative region belonged then to the British and had become a popular refuge for people fleeing China in the midst of the civil war. So, Leung was one of many from her nation to make Hong Kong home.

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But Hong Kong wasn’t the only place Leung moved to after leaving her native China behind. She also lived for some time in Singapore, which – like Hong Kong – was ruled by Britain until 1963. After that, the city-state formed part of Malaysia, but Singapore gained its independence two years later.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Leung was a well-known shidaiqu star, though she still found time to share her talent with others. The vocalist also taught singing in Singapore and acted as a music teacher in Hong Kong. So, it would be fair to say that music formed a major part of Leung’s life even after she moved to the U.S. in 1971.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Leung got a job teaching Chinese in San Francisco, but singing remained a passion for her. Indeed, she studied at a local music school, participated in choirs and performed at restaurants. Leung was even invited to sing in places such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as in Canada and Australia.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

So, as we’ve seen, Leung had a long and successful career as a singer. Though it seems that she didn’t often regale the family with stories of her past. Leung had chronicled her life in a number of photographs, but she didn’t share these with her nearest and dearest. As a result, it wasn’t until her death that they got a glimpse into her glamorous former life.

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For Johnny at least, the images of his grandmother were a complete revelation. He’d never seen any of them when Leung was still alive. But after her death, he was tasked with scanning many of the photos in preparation for his grandma’s funeral. And he decided to share some of the pictures online after filing through the memories of Leung’s amazing life.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny shared 83 images in an album called “My Grandma” on Facebook. He wrote that the photographs were “mostly focused on the 1940s, ‘50s… and ‘60s.” Johnny added that they were “primarily of her music and modeling career, and a little bit of her personal life.” However, this was no ordinary family album.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

It turned out that Leung had lived a pretty extraordinary life. Not only did she survive the upheaval in her native China, but her career as a model and singer had seen her take part in pageants and appear in adverts. Furthermore, she had even rubbed shoulders with Hollywood royalty.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Within Leung’s photographs, her family found evidence that she was a one-time beauty queen. Writing on Facebook in April 2020, Johnny revealed, “My grandma had this entire album filled with newspaper clippings of her time [in] a beauty pageant – competing for Miss Hong Kong, towards Miss Universe. I honestly had no idea. It surprised a lot of us in the family.”

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny later discovered that the cuttings dated from 1952. He revealed, “Digging deeper into this now, it appears this was actually for the very first Miss Universe contest ever – that would be won by Miss Finland: Armi Kuusela. My grandma made it to [the] semi-finals for Miss Hong Kong, but lost to Judy Dan, who would place third in [Miss] Universe.”

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Leung’s involvement in the first Miss Universe competition was an interesting story in itself. But it wasn’t the only exciting anecdote the singer would have had at her disposal. That’s because other photographs she kept show her rubbing shoulders with the iconic Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor and her film producer husband Mike Todd.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny posted the photograph of his grandmother with Elizabeth and Mike on Facebook and gave more context to the meeting. It turned out that it was arranged by Run Run Shaw. He was the Chinese entertainment mogul behind the Shaw Brothers Studio – East Asia’s largest such company.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

In fact, the movie mogul appears in the 1957 photograph of Leung with Mike and Elizabeth. Johnny explained, “She was asked by [Run Run] Shaw to be a representative of the Singaporean entertainment industry to greet [Elizabeth].” Interestingly, the meeting occurred just months before Mike lost his life in a plane crash.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

But these individuals weren’t the only celebrities to appear in Leung’s photo collections. Johnny thought that other pictures show his grandma posing alongside other stars of the shidaiqu genre: including Gu Mei and Liu Ping Ping. Another picture in the album is believed to be of the singer Marian Anderson, who was the first African-American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Furthermore, Johnny found an advert which his grandmother had done to promote Beck’s beer. There were also a number of modeling shots, a photograph of one of Leung’s records from the 1960s and many snaps of her performing. However, other images had more sentimental value.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Other photographs that Johnny came across show his grandmother on her wedding day – dressed in a billowing white gown. There was a snap of her posing with her mother, while other images of Leung feature her holding Johnny’s mother and his aunt.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny also posted a couple of images he’d taken with his grandmother over the years. The first show Leung holding her grandson when he was just a small child. The second features Leung as an older lady – posing with Johnny on New Years’ Eve 2013. Of course, both were no doubt treasured memories in the wake of Leung’s passing.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

In fact, it seems that the photos Johnny acquired following Leung’s death helped him to see his grandmother in a new light. Though he had been aware of her success as a singer, it seems he had not known just what a glamorous life she had lived. But the images gave Johnny a valuable insight into Leung’s heyday.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny then talked about Leung’s fame and success on Facebook. He wrote, “I knew. She’d like to brag about it to others as well. My sister interviewed her in 2008. I have her 2011 CD, too. However, to my sister, cousins, and I, she’d heavily downplay it… she was just a simple grandma to us like anyone else’s, who’d bake nian gao, buy us clothes and protect me from bullies.”

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Johnny had decided to share Leung’s story online with the world after discovering his grandmother’s legacy more fully. Not only did he post her photographs on social media, but he also shared links to some of Leung’s music. In doing so, he perhaps introduced her songs to a whole new audience.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

Before long, the memories of his grandmother that Johnny shared on Facebook went viral. Leung’s photographs were subsequently picked up by news outlets as far away as Thailand and China. And what’s more, Johnny received a number of messages praising his relative’s beauty, elegance and talent.

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Image: Facebook/Johnny Quan

People were so taken with Leung’s fascinating photos that there were some calls online for Johnny to make a documentary or write a book about his grandmother. However, he told fans that he was still considering his plans when asked on Facebook what he intended to do with her legacy. Johnny added, “[I’m] still thinking on it, but we’ll see where this may take me!”

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