Renowned Chinese-born writer Han Suyin, whose autobiographical novel was turned into the popular American film “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”, has died in Lausanne, Switzerland, Chinese and Swiss media said Sunday. She was 95.
Han, the author of about 40 books on modern China, died Friday, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported, citing her family.
The frail-looking and charismatic Han was branded both as a “Chinese revolutionary” in the West and “bourgeois” in communist China, with her work, often based on her own life straddling the two worlds.
The thrice-married Han’s numerous novels and essays, as well as her meetings with Indira Gandhi, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, earned her a worldwide reputation.
The writer’s biggest work was a five-volume autobiography, while other writings included biographies of Mao and Zhou, and a study on Tibet.
She had been one of the few foreigners to be able to visit communist China in the early years of the regime. In a 1968 interview with France’s Le Figaro newspaper, she said Mao was “the greatest man China has known”.
Born Matilda Rosalie Elizabeth Chow in Henan province on September 12, 1917, Han was the daughter of a Chinese railway engineer and his Belgian wife. She studied medicine in China before continuing her studies in Belgium in the 1930s and later in London.
She later changed her name to Rosalie Elizabeth Comber and chose Han Suyin as a pen name. “Suyin” means ordinary voice in Chinese.
She was criticised for supporting Chairman Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in the 1950s and the later Cultural Revolution.
Han’s work as a nurse in China during the war against the Japanese occupation in 1938 stoked her patriotic feelings.
She qualified as a doctor in London in 1948, meantime having a disappointing marriage with her first husband, Dang Baoyang, an anti-communist engineer.
He was killed during China’s civil war, after which Han abandoned medicine and started writing, in Chinese, English and French.
She wrote “A Many-Splendored Thing” in Hong Kong based on her romance with British war correspondent Ian Morrison, who was killed in the Korean War in 1950.
The book was adapted for the silver screen in 1955.
She married a British anti-espionage specialist, Leon Comber, and worked as a doctor in Malaysia and Singapore, during which time she grew increasingly sympathetic with communism.
She returned to China in 1956, when she was greeted with great fanfare by then premier Zhou.
Having divorced Comber, she later married a third time, to Indian engineer named Vincent Ruthnaswany, with whom she had lived in Lausanne.
Han frequently returned to China and in 1984 wrote a historical novel set in China and Switzerland, “The Enchantress”.
Funeral services for Han are planned for Thursday in Lausanne, the Swiss news agency ATS reported.
[Image from a 1975 interview via YouTube]