Sanmao (author)

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Chen Mao Ping (陳懋平)
Born(1943-03-26)March 26, 1943
Chongqing, Sichuan, Republic of China
DiedJanuary 4, 1991(1991-01-04) (aged 47)
Taipei, Taiwan
Pen nameSan Mao (三毛)
OccupationWriter, translator
Notable workStories of the Sahara Gone with the Rainy Season
SpouseJose Maria Quero y Ruiz (m. 1973-1979)
Born on (1951-10-09)October 9, 1951, died on September 30, 1979(1979-09-30) (aged 27)

Sanmao (三毛) (March 26, 1943 – January 4, 1991) was a Taiwanese novelist, writer and translator. Born as Chen Mao Ping (陳懋平), her pseudonym was adopted from a character of acclaimed caricaturist Zhang Leping's most famous work, entitled Sanmao.[1] In English, she was also known as Echo or Echo Chan, the first name she used in Latin script, based on the homonymous Greek nymph.

Her work ranges from autobiographical writing, to travel writing and reflective novels, to translations of European comic books. Sanmao studied philosophy and taught German, in addition to a serious later career in writing.

Early years and adolescence[edit]

Sanmao was born in Chongqing to Chen Siqing, a lawyer, and Miao Jinlan.[2] She had an older sister, Chen Tianxin.[3] Both parents were devout Christians.[2] Her family was from Zhejiang. After the War of Resistance Against Japan, the family moved to Nanjing, Jiangsu.[2] When Sanmao was six, they relocated to Taiwan, where she began school in an educational system where strict restrictions were placed on students. Sanmao disliked the lack of freedom.[2]

As a child, she developed an early interest in literature and was exposed to famous Chinese writers, such as Lu Xun, Ba Jin, Bing Xin, Lao She, and Yu Dafu.[2] She read works such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quixote, and Gone With The Wind.[2] She was particularly interested in Dream of the Red Chamber and read it as a Grade 5 student during class.[2][3] When asked what she wanted to become when she was older, she responded that she wanted to marry a great artist, specifically "Pablo Picasso, the Spanish painter."[2]

Due to her preoccupation with reading, Sanmao's grades suffered in middle school, particularly in mathematics.[2] After a distressing incident when a teacher drew black circles around her eyes and humiliated her in front of her classmates, Sanmao stopped attending school.[2] Her father taught her English and classical literature at home and hired tutors to teach her piano and painting.[2]

In 1962, at age 19, Sanmao published her first essay.[4]

Later years and career[edit]

Sanmao studied philosophy at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, with the goal of "[finding] the solution to problems in life."[2] There, she dated a fellow student; however, becoming "disillusioned with romance," she moved to Madrid, Spain at age 20 and began studying at the University of Madrid.[2]

Sanmao later moved to Germany, where she intensively studied the German language, sometimes up to 16 hours per day.[2] Within nine months, she earned a qualification to teach German and began studying ceramics.[2]

At age 26, Sanmao returned to Taiwan.[2] She fell in love with a teacher from Germany and were engaged; however, the teacher died from a heart attack before they could marry.[2] Sanmao returned to Madrid and began teaching English at a primary school.[2]

Western Sahara desert 1

In 1976 she published the autobiographical The Stories of the Sahara, which was on her experiences living in the Sahara together with her Spanish husband Jose, whom she first met in Madrid and later married in 1973 while living together in the then Spanish-controlled Western Sahara. Part travelogue and part memoir, it was an eye-opening account of life and love in the desert, and quickly established Sanmao as a travel writer with a unique voice and perspective. Following the book's immense success in Taiwan, Mainland China as well as Hong Kong, her early writings were collected in a second book, published under the title Gone With the Rainy Season. She continued to publish her writings, and her experiences in the Sahara and the Canary Islands were published in several more books.

In 1979 her husband drowned while diving. In 1980 she returned to Taiwan, and in November of the same year, she travelled to Central and South America, on commission from Taiwanese publishers. These experiences were recorded in subsequent writings. From 1981 to 1984, she taught and lectured at her alma mater the Chinese Cultural University in Taiwan. After this point, she decided to dedicate herself fully to writing.

Sanmao's books deal mainly with her own experiences studying and living abroad. They were extremely well received not only in Taiwan, but also in mainland China, and they remain popular reads today. From 1976 to the time of her death in 1991, Sanmao published more than 20 books. She also translated the comic Mafalda from Spanish to Chinese.


On 4 January 1991, at the age of 47, Sanmao committed suicide in a hospital in Taipei. She had hanged herself with a pair of silk stocking. This took place days after a cancer scare and losing the Hong Kong movie award Golden Horse Film Festival Award for her script to the film Red Dust, a loss which she took poorly.

Some fans, most notably Zhang Jinran, claimed her death was a murder. Her apparent suicide came as a shock to many of her readers and was accompanied by public expressions of grief throughout the Chinese-speaking world. There has been much speculation regarding the reason for her suicide: a cancer scare, disappointment over losing the Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards for her script to the film Red Dust, or depression over her husband Jose's death, which had occurred 12 years earlier.[5]


  1. ^ Mo, Weimin; Wenju Shen (September 2006). "Sanmao, the Vagrant : Homeless Children of Yesterday and Today". Children's Literature In Education. 37 (3): 267–285.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "San Mao—Taiwan's Wandering Writer - All China Women's Federation". Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  3. ^ a b "A Collection of San Mao". Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  4. ^ "In memory of an olive tree -". Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  5. ^ Tamara Treichel.( March 11, 2013). San Mao:The Echo Effect.People's Daily Online.Retrieved from