Sanmao (writer)

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Echo Chen Ping
Native name
BornChen Mao-ping (陳懋平)
(1943-03-26)March 26, 1943
Chongqing, Sichuan, China
Died4 January 1991(1991-01-04) (aged 47)
Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan)
Pen nameSanmao (三毛)
OccupationWriter, translator
EducationTaiwan Provincial Taipei First Girls' High School (dropout)
Alma materChinese Culture University
Complutense University of Madrid
Notable worksStories of the Sahara
Gone with the Rainy Season
José María Quero y Ruíz
(m. 1973; died 1979)
RelativesChen Siqing (father)
Miao Jinlan (mother)
Chen Tianxin (sister)

 Literature portal

Sanmao (Chinese: 三毛; pinyin: Sānmáo) was the pen name of Echo Chen Ping (born Chen Mao-ping; 26 March 1943 – 4 January 1991), a Chinese writer and translator. Her works range from autobiographical writing, travel writing and reflective novels, to translations of Spanish-language comic strips. She studied philosophy and taught German before becoming a career writer. Her pen name was adopted from the main character of Zhang Leping's most famous work, Sanmao.[1] In English, she was also known as Echo or Echo Chan, the first name she used in Latin script, after the eponymous Greek nymph. Since childhood, she was said to have avoided writing the character "Mao" (懋) as it was too complex; later in life, she legally changed her name to Chen Ping.

Early life[edit]

She was born Chen Mao-ping in Chongqing to Chen Siqing, a lawyer, and Miao Jinlan.[2][3] She had an older sister, Chen Tianxin.[4] Her parents were devout Christians.[2][3] Her family was from Zhejiang. After the Second Sino-Japanese War, the family moved to Nanjing.[3] When she was six, her family moved to Taiwan because of the Communist takeover of China. She disliked the restrictiveness of the Taiwanese school system.[3]

As a child, she developed an interest in literature and read a range of writers from all countries, including Lu Xun, Ba Jin, Bing Xin, Lao She, and Yu Dafu,[3] and works such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quixote, and Gone with the Wind.[3] She read Dream of the Red Chamber as a Grade 5 student during class.[3][4] When asked what she wanted to become when she grew up, she said that she wanted to marry a great artist, specifically Pablo Picasso.[3]

Due to her preoccupation with reading, Sanmao's grades suffered in middle school, particularly in mathematics.[3] After an incident when a teacher drew black circles around her eyes and humiliated her in class, Sanmao dropped out.[3] Her father home-schooled her in English and classical literature and hired tutors to teach her piano and painting.[3]

In 1962, at age 19, Sanmao published her first essay.[5]


Sanmao studied philosophy at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, with the goal of "[finding] the solution to problems in life."[3] There, she dated a fellow student; however, becoming "disillusioned with romance," she moved to Madrid, Spain at age 20 and began studying at the Complutense University of Madrid.[3][2] In Madrid, she met Spanish marine engineer José María Quero y Ruíz, whom she would later marry.[6]

Sanmao later moved to Germany, where she intensively studied German, sometimes up to 16 hours per day.[3] Within nine months, she earned a qualification to teach German and began studying ceramics.[3]

At age 26, Sanmao returned to Taiwan.[3] She was engaged to a teacher from Germany, but he died of a heart attack before they could marry.[3] Sanmao returned to Madrid and began teaching English at a primary school,[3] rekindled her relationship with Ruíz,[6] and married him in 1973, in the then-Spanish-controlled Western Sahara.

Desert in Western Sahara

In 1976 she published the autobiographical The Stories of the Sahara, based on her experiences living in the Sahara with Jose. Part travelogue and part memoir, it established Sanmao as an autobiographical writer with a unique voice and perspective. Following the book's immense success in Taiwan, British Hong Kong, and China, her early writings were collected under the title Gone With the Rainy Season. She continued to write, and her experiences in the Sahara and the Canary Islands were published in several more books.

On 30 September 1979,[7] Jose drowned in a diving accident.[6] In 1980 she returned to Taiwan, and in November 1981, she traveled to Central and South America on commission from Taiwanese publishers. These experiences were recorded in subsequent works. From 1981 to 1984, she taught and lectured at her alma mater, Chinese Culture 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 Hong Kong and China, and they remain popular. From 1976 to 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,[2] Sanmao committed suicide at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taipei by hanging herself with a pair of silk stockings.

Some fans, notably Zhang Jinran, claimed her death was a murder. Her apparent suicide came as a shock to many 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 Taiwan film Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards for her script to the film Red Dust, a loss which she took poorly, or depression over her husband's death 12 years earlier.[2][8] She was buried at the Chin Pao San Cemetery.

On 26 March 2019, Google commemorated Sanmao with a Doodle on her 76th birth anniversary.[9][10]

In 2019, Sanmao was acknowledged in the New York Times Overlooked posthumous obituary feature for her book The Stories of the Sahara. Her work is lauded for its endurance through generations, inspiring young Taiwanese and Chinese women yearning for independence from conservative cultural norms.[2]

English-language editions of The Stories of the Sahara were published posthumously by Bloomsbury Publishing, following an agreement with Crown Culture [zh].[2][11]



Year English title Original title Role Non Acting Role Remark Ref.
1990 Red Dust 滚滚红尘 screenwriter with Yim Ho


  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. doi:10.1007/s10583-006-9012-6. S2CID 162262395.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Overlooked No More: Sanmao, 'Wandering Writer' Who Found Her Voice in the Desert". The New York Times. October 23, 2019. Retrieved October 28, 2019.
  3. ^ 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 March 28, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "A Collection of San Mao". Archived from the original on May 16, 2013. Retrieved April 21, 2016.
  5. ^ "In memory of an olive tree –". Retrieved April 21, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Zhang, Han (March 31, 2020). "Rereading Sanmao, the Taiwanese Wayfarer Who Sold Fifteen Million Books". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  7. ^ Vidales, Raquel (October 26, 2016). "Sanmao: a Chinese woman's tragic love story in Spain". EL PAÍS. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  8. ^ Tamara Treichel (11 March 2013). San Mao: The Echo Effect. People's Daily Online. Retrieved from
  9. ^ "Sanmao's 76th Birthday". March 26, 2019.
  10. ^ Deaeth, Duncan (March 26, 2019). "Google Doodle honors 'Taiwan's wandering writer' San Mao". Taiwan News. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  11. ^ Teng, Pei-ju (October 26, 2019). "Taiwan writer Sanmao's work to be published in UK". Taiwan News. Retrieved October 28, 2019.