Han Suyin

Elizabeth KC Comber
Born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chow
12 September 1916
Xinyang in Henan, China
Died 2 November 2012(2012-11-02) (aged 95)
Lausanne, Switzerland
Pen name Han Suyin
Occupation Author and physician
Language Chinese, English, French
Ethnicity Hakka-Flemish
Citizenship British
Period 1942–2012
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 F. Comber (1952–1958)
Vincent Ratnaswamy (1960–2003)
Children Tang Yungmei and Chew Hui Im. Grandchildren: Karen Shepard, William Lee, Wilson Lee
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Han.

Han Suyin (simplified Chinese: 韩素音; traditional Chinese: 韓素音; pinyin: Hán Sùyīn; 12 September 1916 or 1917  2 November 2012)[1] was the pen name of Elizabeth Comber, born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou (Chinese: 周光瑚; pinyin: Zhōu Guānghú).[2] She was a China-born Eurasian,[3] a physician, and author of books in English and French on modern China, novels set in East and Southeast Asia, and 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 until her death.


Han Suyin was born in Xinyang, Henan, China. Her father was a Belgian-educated Chinese engineer, Chou Wei (Chinese: 周煒; pinyin: Zhōu Wěi), of Hakka heritage, while her mother was Flemish.

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.[4]

In 1944 she went with her daughter to London — where her husband Pao had been posted two years earlier as military attaché[5] — to continue her studies in medicine at the Royal Free Hospital. Pao was subsequently posted to Washington and later to the Manchurian front.[5] 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)[5] and the factual basis of their relationship is documented in her autobiography My House Has Two Doors (1980).[6]

In 1952, she married Leon F. Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch, and went with him to Johore, Malaya (present-day Malaysia), where she worked in the Johore Bahru General Hospital and opened a clinic in Johore Bahru and Upper Pickering Street, Singapore. In 1953, she adopted another daughter, Chew Hui-Im (Hueiying), in Singapore.[7]

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".[8]

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."[9] After resigning, he moved into book publishing as the local representative for London publisher Heinemann.[10] 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. She is survived by two daughters, Tang Yung Mei and Chew Hui Im, and three grandchildren: Karen Shepard, William Lee and Wilson Lee.

A very human account of Han Suyin, the physician, author, and woman, occurs in G. M. Glaskin's A Many-Splendoured Woman: A Memoir of Han Suyin.[11]


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 given out awards 21 times.[12]

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".[13]


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.


Autobiographical works

Historical studies



  1. "Renowned Chinese-born author dies". Australian Network News, 4 November 2012.
  2. Alison Lake, ""Han Suyin, Chinese-born author of ‘A Many-Splendoured Thing,’ dies at 95"," Washington Post, 4 November 2012: "She later changed her middle name to Elizabeth, the name she preferred."
  3. Han Suyin – In voicing her Eurasian identity, she defined a people, Time Magazine, 13 November 2006. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  4. 1 2 Ding Jiandong: Han Suyin Research. Retrieved 2012-05-17 archived at the Wayback Machine.
  5. 1 2 3 John Gittings, "Han Suyin – Chinese-born author best known for her 1952 book A Many-Splendoured Thing" (obituary), The Guardian, 4 November 2012.
  6. John Jae-nam Han, "Han Suyin (Rosalie Chou)". Asian-American Autobiographers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, p. 104. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  7. Han Suyin, My House Has Two Doors (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980. ISBN 0-224-01702-0), p. 217.
  8. Sinologists – Lin Yutang.
  9. Martin Vengadesan, "The officer who loved Malaya", The Star online, 30 November 2008.
  10. Monash Asia Institute: Dr Leon Comber. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  11. Gerald Marcus Glaskin, A Many-Splendoured Woman: A Memoir of Han Suyin. (Singapore: Graham Brash, 1995. ISBN 978-981-218-045-2).
  12. Sculpture of Han Suyin Unveiled Dong Chun.
  13. 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

Other references

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/13/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.