Han Suyin: Author whose best-selling 'Many-Splendoured Thing' became a Hollywood hit

 

Han Suyin came to the notice of the Western world with her bestseller love story published in 1952, A Many-Splendoured Thing. The novel, an account of her affair in Hong Kong with the journalist Ian Morrison, was made into a film, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, starring Jennifer Jones and William Holden, in 1955, which won two Academy awards.

Han Suyin wrote the work to assuage her grief after Morrison, a distinguished foreign correspondent for The Times, was killed in August 1950 while reporting from the front during the Korean War. It won her the American Anisfield-Wolf Award in 1953. Both film and book include poignant scenes by the tree where the couple said their last farewells.

The Twentieth Century Fox film, directed by Henry King, produced by Buddy Adler and scripted by John Patrick, turns Morrison, an Australian of Scottish descent educated in England, into "Mark Elliott", an American reporter. Its schmaltzy Hollywood theme song is far from the precise, delicately impressionistic style in which Han Suyin wrote her many books, using mostly English, but also French and Chinese.

She was born in 1917 in Sinyang, Henan province, on Mid-Autumn Day, China's ancient lunar harvest festival. The daughter of a high-class, prosperous Hakka Chinese father, Zhou Yintong, a railway inspector, and a Belgian mother, she spent her life trying to reconcile the elements in her of East and West.

She changed her name from Rosalie Mathilde to Elisabeth, retaining the given family name "Kuang" meaning "Shining", and set her heart on training as a doctor. This was the profession of Sun Yat Sen, leader of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and founder of the Chinese Republic in 1911, when the Manchu Dynasty was overthrown. "Science was our god," she wrote, in her first book Destination Chungking (1942), "a beneficent god to make China a rich and happy nation." She attended Yenching University, now part of Beijing University, and finished her medical training in Belgium and at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

All through her childhood she had known a China in turmoil, but she and her first husband, the Sandhurst-trained Tang Pao-huang, an officer on the General Staff of Sun Yat Sen's successor as Kuomintang leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, also experienced, she wrote, greater freedom than previous generations, especially in matters of social contact and being allowed to marry for love. "I grew into youth in that interval of peace when our country was united and all her factions in fair accord," she declared. "To be young was to be patriotic, to love China with a fierce fervour of pride." Nevertheless a shadow loomed: "It is true, if we paused to think soberly, there was a shiver of apprehension in the knowledge that Japan waited like a cat, watchful for her opportunity, poised to spring."

Flight from the Japanese was one of the experiences she shared with her later lover, Morrison: in 1938 she and Pao had fled the fall that October of the city of Hankow, and Morrison the fall of Singapore in February 1942. By the time she met Morrison in 1949 she was a widow, Pao having been killed fighting in Manchuria in 1947. The affair with Morrison drew attention to her Eurasian background, and she lost her job and faced ostracism by the Chinese community.

The state of being a refugee, first experienced in childhood when she and her mother had to flee warlords and go to Beijing, informed all her work, more than 20 books in English, spanning the last five decades of the 20th century, often about thwarted love. She also wrote biographies of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, criticised by some as too adulatory, and travelled the world giving lectures.

A woman of contradictions, she declared herself in her twenties a pacifist, then devoted herself to supporting Chinese armed resistance to the Japanese. An advocate of freedom from colonial rule, in 1952 she married Leon Comber, a British Special Branch officer putting down communist revolt in Malaya in the Emergency as British control neared its end.

Comber, who survives her, told an interviewer in 2008 that they met in Hong Kong, and she followed him to Johore Bahru, Malaya. He felt that her novel about the time, And the Rain My Drink, presented the British security forces in a "rather slanted fashion... She was a rather pro-Left intellectual." The seven-year marriage ended in divorce.

Han Suyin continued her medical practice at Johore Bahru in her own name as Dr Elisabeth CK Comber, keeping her second husband's surname. She had chosen her pen-name, Han, in homage to the majority group of Chinese – the word also meaning "guest-people", or refugees – and Suyin, meaning "plain-sounding".

She met the man who was to be her third husband on a trip to Nepal in 1956. Colonel Vincent Ruthnaswamy of the Indian Army, whom she married in 1960, became with her a "friendship envoy" sanctioned by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. This remit included repairing strains with India, after the war between India and China of 1962. Han Suyin was also a consultant to the World Health Organisation on China affairs.

She and Colonel Ruthnaswamy lived in Bangalore, then Hong Kong. He died in 2003. Her last years were spent living in Lausanne, Switzerland, about which, with her ever-inquiring mind, she made up a novel. That city's 18th-century clock industry is the subject of The Enchantress (1985), in which a brother and sister take the latest European technology to China but are obliged to flee back to Europe.

Han Suyin leaves an adopted daughter, Tang Yungmei.

Anne Keleny

Rosalie Mathilde (Elisabeth) Kuang Chou (Zhou), (Han Suyin), author and physician: born Sinyang, Henan, China 30 September 1917; married 1938 Tang Pao-huang (died 1947), 1952 Leon Comber (divorced 1959), 1960 Vincent Ruthnaswamy (died 2003); one daughter; died Lausanne, Switzerland 2 November 2012.

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit