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Postcard from... Beijing


A short episode of Han Suyin's life story became the William Holden-Jennifer Jones romance epic Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, but the Chinese-born writer, who died last week, aged 95, was a true original who witnessed modern Asia in the making and wrote 40 books on modern China.

The Eurasian writer was born Matilda Rosalie Elizabeth Chow in Henan province in 1917, the daughter of a Chinese railway engineer and his Belgian wife. She studied medicine in Chinabefore a patron allowed her to continue her studies in Brussels in the 1930s, and then later in London.

Her first husband, Dang Baoyang, was a Nationalist general who died fighting the Communists in China in 1947, but it was her romance with the British war correspondent Ian Morrison, who was one of the first journalists to die in the Korean War in 1950, that brought her to fame, after her book about their affair was filmed in 1955. She subsequently worked as a doctor in Malaysia and Singapore, after marrying a British counter-espionage specialist, Leon Comber. In these years she became ever more sympathetic to Communism.

She ultimately straddled two ideologies in China, condemned as "bourgeois" by the Communists, and dismissed as a "revolutionary" by the Americans.

Han once described Chairman Mao Zedong as "the greatest man China has known". In later life she was vilified for backing Mao's Great Leap Forward in the 1950s and the later Cultural Revolution.

She met Mao and Zhou Enlai, as well as Indira Gandhi and other luminaries.