She crossed China alone to visit Tibet, a place she considered sacred, where she met her future husband and fell in love. She was a devout Christian in a country that once banned religion and is only grudgingly allowing some worship. Instead of living a comfortable life as a doctor in her native China, she came to Medical College of Georgia to pursue her dream of becoming a physician scientist.
But more than anything else, her husband and her friends remembered her smile, her optimism and her devotion to others.
Dr. Cheng was killed March 10 while crossing 15th Street to get to MCG. On Monday more than 300 people packed a gym for her memorial service.
Her selflessness is what made Chaohui Wu fall in love with her when the two were strangers traveling in the same touring vehicle through Tibet. In a rural area of the country where medical care is nonexistent, Dr. Cheng went into the mountains to treat the sick, giving away the medicine and supplies she had brought for herself, the husband said through interpreter Walter Cheng.
"In spite of her generosity, she felt bad," he said. "All the way back down she was blaming herself for not being adequate, not able to help them. That night was the night I saw her."
It was apparent to everyone who met her, starting with the ever-present smile and continuing through her optimism, hard work and dedication to friends.
"Whenever one of us fell down, she was there to pick us up," said friend Wararat Kittikulsuth. "When I was sad, Ji would always find a way to cheer me up. She may be gone from our lives but she will never be gone from our hearts."
She had been a student in the School of Graduate Studies since August but had already made an indelible impression, which makes the loss that much harder, Dean Gretchen Caughman said. In her application, she had spoken of her journeys to Tibet, of her wonder at the devotion of the pilgrims who went there, and compared it to her own academic journey, Dr. Caughman said.
She "lived life to the fullest," said Mr. Wu, her husband. "For her parents, for her family, for her friends, she was our pillar of strength. We must rebuild our lives once again. We want to carry the light of happiness she lit."
She had been preparing for the arrival of her husband, who had just secured a visa after they were married in December. The last thing she said to him was in an e-mail the night before she died.
"I can't wait for you to get here," it said. "I will have a warm home for you."
Instead, he will carry her ashes back to China.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com.