China-US / Chinese Community Leaders

Ming-Tat Cheung: Doctor with a big heart

By CLORIE NG in Toronto (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-12-12 00:41

Ming-Tat Cheung: Doctor with a big heart

Dr Ming-Tat Cheung (to left of lion), chairman and president of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, and Fang Li (right), Chinese consul general in Toronto, attend a ceremony to celebrate the Chinese Cultural Heritage Weekend at the Royal Ontario Museum on April 13 in Toronto. LI NA / China Daily

When it comes to representing the Chinese community in Canada, Dr Ming-Tat Cheung is a name you can't miss.

Cheung was chosen to join the entourage of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his two visits to China, the first in 2012, and the most recent one in November.

He said he wasn't there to sign any business deals or engage in high-level political talks, but to simply represent Chinese culture in Canada.

That's the role the cardiologist sees himself in all these years: to do something that matters to the community not just in Canada, but also in China.

Ming-Tat Cheung: Doctor with a big heart

Cheung has been a doctor for more than 30 years, and has made Canada his home for more than 40. The soft-spoken Macao native tackles heart research with the same passion he puts into community issues.

Among his accomplishments are the building of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto (CCCGT); bringing a pair of giant pandas to the Toronto Zoo; and organizing fundraising functions for natural disasters around the world.

Cheung reminisced about the days when he was inspired to establish a Chinese cultural presence in Canada after becoming chairman and president of CCCGT in 1989.

Cheung said that when he first came to Canada, he noticed that the mention of "Chinese culture" would instantly conjure up "Chinatown", whereas there already was a Japanese Cultural Centre and a Korean Cultural Centre.

Boasting a Chinese population of more than 250,000 back then, it was only natural that building a Chinese Cultural Center in Canada would create enthusiasm.

After fundraising, lobbying, planning and finding a developer, Cheung and his team realized their dream with the opening of CCCGT in 1998, and the completion of an expansion in 2006.

The center is now a landmark in Toronto, the largest of its kind in North America, and a cultural hub for all community groups with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Cheung attributed his success to the support of volunteers and the community, but most of all, "you've got to have the right timing, right place and right people in order to make it happen".

The major challenge at CCCGT is to maintain the operation and financial base of the center, while developing new programs and initiatives.

Some of the prominent events organized by CCCGT in recent years include the Chinese Heritage Day at the Royal Ontario Museum every Lunar New Year, and the International Piano Competition – the first of its kind, held in Toronto a month ago.

Cheung said that CCCGT needs to address a new mix of Chinese Canadians, including Canadian-born Chinese and immigrants.

That secret of success also carries over to his efforts to bring the giant pandas to Canada.

In 2010, he became chairman of the Panda Acquisition Task Force appointed by the Toronto Zoo Management Board.

He traveled to China three times in 2010, including a visit with then-Governor General Michelle Jean for direct talks with Chinese President Hu, who approved the transfer of two pandas to Canada in 2012.

The arrival of the pair of "national treasures", Er Shun and Da Mao, dramatically boosted visits to the Toronto Zoo, bringing cheers and wonder to visitors.

Adding to the panda story is the expected pregnancy of Er Shun.

On Sino-Canadian relations, Cheung said Canadians are well aware of China's impact on the world and its development over the past 30 years.

But there are issues that reflect how systems from other parts of the world have yet to be applied in China, and it would take "time and patience to see China ready."

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Cheung chaired the Community Coalition Concerned about SARS, a group of more than 60 community organizations that assists victims, fights stigmatization and discrimination, and raises funds for research.

Cheung has organized several fundraising functions in response to natural disasters around the world, including the Asian tsunamis and South Asian earthquakes in 2005; Sichuan's Wen-Chuan Earthquake Relief in 2008; and Haiti Earthquake Relief in 2010, in which 80 community groups from Chinese and other Asian communities raised more than a quarter-million dollars for earthquake victims. He also raised funds for the China Gansu mudslide, Pakistan flood relief, Taiwan flood relief and Japanese tsunami relief.

Cheung lately has been trying to find balance in life, as he runs the CCCGT, cares for his patients and finds quality time for his family. He also is revisiting a longtime interest in calligraphy.

"I believe that there's got to be different challenges at different stages in life," he said.

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