Elizabeth KC Comber
|Born||Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou|
12 September 1916
Xinyang, Henan, Republic of China
|Died||2 November 2012 (aged 95)|
|Resting place||Name of Cemetery: Cimetiere du Bois-de-Vaux
Address: Chemin du Bois-de-Vaux, 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland Section no: A8Tomb no: 1707
|Pen name||Han Suyin|
|Occupation||Author and physician|
|Language||Chinese, English, French|
|Genre||Fiction, history, biographies|
|Subject||Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai|
|Notable works||A Many-Splendoured Thing|
The Crippled Tree
My House Has Two Doors
|Spouse||Tang Pao-Huang (1938–1947)|
Leon Comber (1952–1958)
Vincent Ratnaswamy (1960–2003)
|Children||(adopted) Tang Yungmei and Chew Hui Im|
Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou (Chinese: 周光瑚; pinyin: Zhōu Guānghú) (12 September 1917 or 1916 – 2 November 2012) was a Chinese-born Eurasian physician and author better known by her pen name Han Suyin (simplified Chinese: 韩素音; traditional Chinese: 韓素音; pinyin: Hán Sùyīn). She wrote in English and French on modern China, set her novels in East and Southeast Asia, and published autobiographical memoirs which covered the span of modern China. These writings gained her a reputation as an ardent and articulate supporter of the Chinese Communist Revolution. She lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, for many years until her death.
She began work as a typist at Peking Union Medical College in 1931, not yet 15 years old. In 1933 she was admitted to Yenching University where she felt she was discriminated against as a Eurasian. In 1935 she went to Brussels to study medicine. In 1938 she returned to China, married Tang Pao-Huang (Chinese: 唐保璜), a Chinese Nationalist military officer, who was to become a general. She worked as a midwife in an American Christian mission hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan. Her first novel, Destination Chungking (1942), was based on her experiences during this period. In 1940, she and her husband adopted their daughter, Tang Yungmei.
In 1944 she went with her daughter to London, where her husband Pao had been posted two years earlier as military attaché, to continue her studies in medicine at the Royal Free Hospital. Pao was subsequently posted to Washington and later to the Manchurian front. In 1947, while she was still in London, her husband died in action during the Chinese Civil War.
She graduated MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery) with Honours in 1948 and in 1949 went to Hong Kong to practise medicine at the Queen Mary Hospital. There she met and fell in love with Ian Morrison, a married Australian war correspondent based in Singapore, who was killed in Korea in 1950. She portrayed their relationship in the bestselling novel A Many-Splendoured Thing (Jonathan Cape, 1952) and the factual basis of their relationship is documented in her autobiography My House Has Two Doors (1980).
In 1952, she married Leon Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch, and went with him to Johore, Malaya (present-day Malaysia), where she worked in the Johor Bahru General Hospital and opened a clinic in Johor Bahru and Upper Pickering Street, Singapore. In 1953, she adopted another daughter, Chew Hui-Im (Hueiying), in Singapore.
In 1955, Han contributed efforts to the establishment of Nanyang University in Singapore. Specifically, she served as physician to the institution, having refused an offer to teach literature. Chinese writer Lin Yutang, first president of the university, had recruited her for the latter field, but she declined, indicating her desire "to make a new Asian literature, not teach Dickens".
Also in 1955, her best-known novel, A Many-Splendoured Thing, was filmed as Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. The musical theme song, "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing", won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In her autobiography, My House Has Two Doors, she distanced herself from the film, saying that although it was shown for many weeks at the Cathay Cinema in Singapore to packed audiences, she never went to see it, and that the film rights had been sold to pay for an operation on her adopted daughter who was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. Much later, the movie itself was made into a daytime soap opera, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, which ran from 1967 to 1973 on American TV.
In 1956, she published the novel And the Rain My Drink, whose description of the guerrilla war of Chinese rubber workers against the government was perceived to be very anti-British, and Comber is said to have resigned as acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Special Branch mainly because of this. In a 2008 interview, he said: "The novel portrayed the British security forces in a rather slanted fashion, I thought. She was a rather pro-Left intellectual and a doctor. I understood the reasons why the communists might have felt the way they did, but I didn't agree with them taking up arms." After resigning, he moved into book publishing as the local representative for London publisher Heinemann. Han Suyin and Comber divorced in 1958.
In 1960, Han married Vincent Ratnaswamy, an Indian colonel, and lived for a time in Bangalore, India. They later resided in Hong Kong and Switzerland, where she remained, living in Lausanne. Although later separated, they remained married until Ratnaswamy's death in January 2003.
After 1956, Han visited China almost annually. She was one of the first foreign nationals to visit post-1949 revolution China, including through the years of the Cultural Revolution. In 1974, she was the featured speaker at the founding national convention of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association in Los Angeles.
Han died in Lausanne on 2 November 2012, aged 95.
Han Suyin funded the Chinese Writers Association to create the "National Rainbow Award for Best Literary Translation" (which is now the Lu Xun Literary Award for Best Literary Translation) to help develop literature translation in China. The "Han Suyin Award for Young Translators", sponsored by the China International Publishing Group, was also set up by her, and as of 2009 it had conferred awards 21 times.
Han has also been influential in Asian American literature, as her books were published in English and contained depictions of Asians that were radically different from the portrayals found in both Anglo-American and Asian-American authors. Frank Chin, in his essay "Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake", credits Han with being one of the few Chinese American writers (his term) who does not portray Chinese men as "emasculated and sexually repellent" and for being one of the few who "[wrote] knowledgeably and authentically of Chinese fairy tales, heroic tradition, and history".
Cultural and political conflicts between East and West in modern history play a central role in Han Suyin's work. She also explores the struggle for liberation in Southeast Asia and the internal and foreign policies of modern China since the end of the imperial regime. Many of her writings feature the colonial backdrop in East Asia during the 19th and 20th centuries. A notable exception is the novella Winter Love, about a love affair between two young Englishwomen at the end of World War Two.
- Destination Chungking (1942)
- A Many-Splendoured Thing (1952)
- And the Rain My Drink (1956)
- The Mountain Is Young (1958)
- Two Loves (1962), which consists of two novelettes: Cast But One Shadow and Winter Love
- Cast But One Shadow (1962)
- Four Faces (1963)
- Till Morning Comes (1982)
- The Enchantress (1985)
- The Crippled Tree (1965) – covers China and her and her family's life from 1885 to 1928
- A Mortal Flower (1966) – covers the years 1928–38
- Birdless Summer (1968) – covers the years 1938–48
- My House Has Two Doors (1980) – covers the years 1949–79 – split into two when released as paperback in 1982, with the second part called Phoenix Harvest
- Phoenix Harvest (see above)
- Wind in My Sleeve (1992) – covers the years 1977–91
- A Share of Loving (1987) – a more personal autobiography about Han Suyin, her Indian husband Vincent and Vincent's family
- Fleur de soleil – Histoire de ma vie (1988) – French only: Flower of sun – The story about my life
- China in the Year 2001 (1967)
- Asia Today: Two Outlooks (1969)
- The Morning Deluge: Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Revolution 1893–1954 (1972)
- Lhasa, the Open City (1976)
- Wind in the Tower: Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Revolution, 1949–1965 (1976)
- China 1890–1938: From the Warlords to World War (1989; historical photo-reportage)
- Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China (1994)
- Tigers and Butterflies: Selected Writings on Politics, Culture and Society (London: Earthscan, 1990)
- "Water Too Pure...", in Sarah LeFanu and Stephen Hayward (eds), Colours of a New Day: Writing for South Africa (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), pp. 80–92.
- Alison Lake (4 November 2012). "Han Suyin, Chinese-born author of 'A Many-Splendoured Thing,' dies at 95". The Washington Post.
She later changed her middle name to Elizabeth, the name she preferred.
- "Renowned Chinese-born author dies". Australian Network News. 4 November 2012.
- "Han Suyin – In voicing her Eurasian identity, she defined a people". Time Magazine. 13 November 2006. Archived from the original on 4 January 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
- Ding Jiandong. "Han Suyin Research". Archived from the original on 4 August 2005. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
- John Gittings (4 November 2012). "Han Suyin – Chinese-born author best known for her 1952 book A Many-Splendoured Thing" (obituary). The Guardian.
- John Jae-nam Han (2001). "Han Suyin (Rosalie Chou)". Asian-American Autobiographers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. p. 104. ISBN 9780313314087.
- Margalit Fox (5 November 2012). "Han Suyin Dies; Wrote Sweeping Fiction". International New York Times.
- Han Suyin (1980). My House Has Two Doors. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 217. ISBN 0-224-01702-0.
- "Sinologists – Lin Yutang". Archived from the original on 9 August 2013.
- Martin Vengadesan, "The officer who loved Malaya", The Star online, 30 November 2008.
- Monash Asia Institute: Dr Leon Comber Archived 26 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
- Gerald Marcus Glaskin, A Many-Splendoured Woman: A Memoir of Han Suyin (Singapore: Graham Brash, 1995. ISBN 978-981-218-045-2).
- Sculpture of Han Suyin Unveiled Dong Chun.
- Chin, Frank. "Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake", 1990. Reprinted in The Big Aiiieeeee!, Meridian, 1991. Above quote is on p. 12.
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary. Chambers. 28 September 2007. p. 700.
- John Jae-nam Han: Han Suyin (Rosalie Chou) (pages 104–109 in Asian-American Autobiographers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook). Retrieved 17 May 2012
- CPAFFC Voice of Friendship No. 154, 2008: Sculpture of Han Suyin unveiled. Retrieved 17 May 2012
- Wired for Books: Audio Interview with Han Suyin, 26-minute interview in 1985 by Don Swaim for CBS Radio (as RealPlayer and MP3 files). Retrieved 17 May 2012
- University of Minnesota – Voices from the Gaps: Han Suyin. Retrieved 17 May 2012
- Asiawind Hakka pages – Ding Jiandong: Han Suyin Research. Retrieved 17 May 2012
- Gregory Melle: Han Suyin. Retrieved 17 May 2012
- Everything2: Han Suyin biography. Retrieved 17 May 2012
- New Straits Times Traveller's Tales 2005: Han Suyin, a doctor in Johor Baru[permanent dead link]. Retrieved 17 May 2012
- John Gittings, "Han Suyin – Chinese-born author best known for her 1952 book A Many-Splendoured Thing" (obituary), The Guardian, 4 November 2012
- "Han Suyin: writer, goodwill ambassador", The Hindu, 4 November 2012
- "‘Chinese revolutionary’ author Han Suyin dies at 95", South China Morning Post, 6 November 2012
- Hugo Restal, "A Cheerleader for Mao's Cultural Revolution" (obituary), Wall Street Journal (online). 6 November 2012
- Obituary – NY Times