Then, in 1966, Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long period of chaos that upended Chinese society. Militant Red Guards accused Mr. Fu, a prolific translator of writers like Balzac and Voltaire, of having “capitalistic” artistic taste, among other crimes. They humiliated and tortured the scholar and his wife for days until the couple, like many other Chinese, were driven to suicide. Mr. Fou, still in London, did not learn of his parents’ deaths until several months later.
In 1981, after China’s post-Mao government posthumously restored the reputations of Mr. Fou’s parents, a volume of letters written by his father, primarily to Mr. Fou, was published in China. Full of advice, encouragement, life teachings and stern paternal love, the book, “Fu Lei’s Family Letters,” became an instant best seller in China.
For many, the long disquisitions on music, art and life offered a welcome contrast to the Cultural Revolution years, which saw sons turn against fathers, students against teachers and neighbors against neighbors — all in the name of politics.
“If you imagine the environment we grew up with, it was very rigid,” said Xibai Xu, a political analyst who first read the letters in middle school in Beijing. He added, “So when you read ‘Fu Lei’s Family Letters,’ you realized how a decent human life could be — a life that is very delicate and artistic, with real human emotions and not just ideology.”
Besides influencing a generation of Chinese, Mr. Fu’s words resonated long after his death with the person for whom they were originally intended.
“My father had a saying that ‘First you must be a person, then an artist, and then a musician, and only then can you be a pianist,’” Mr. Fou once recalled in an interview. “Even now, I believe in this order — that it should be this way and that I am this way.”