Born in China in 1917, Rosalie Mathilde (Elisabeth) Kuang Chou died in Switzerland 95 years later better known as Han Suyin the author.
Han’s life straddled the turbulent 20th century. She embraced the experiences, wrote them into books, and wrote herself into history. One of her most famous works in the Western world is A many-splendoured thing, written in 1952. It was a tribute to her love affair with Singapore-based Australian journalist Ian Morrison who was killed reporting on the frontline during the Korean War.
She had deep connections with Malaya (and Singapore). She was one-time married to Leon Comber, who was then part of the Malayan Secret Service. The publication of And the rain my drink, which depicted the state of emergency in Malaya and portrayed the Service in a bad light, famously ended the marriage.
Han also taught at the now defunct Nantah (Nanyang University) for two years between 1959 and 1961.
She depicted her experiences in Hong Kong and Malaya powerfully. But just as powerful, and perhaps slightly forgotten, are the more autobiographical “China series”: The Crippled Tree, A Mortal Flower, Birdless Summer, My House Has Two Doors. These books covered the span of her family and her life from 1885 to 1979.
Though she was a multicultural individual, there was no mistaking the love Han had for China, her motherland. Often criticised for her left-leaning tendency, Han never wavered in her belief. As quoted in an LA Times obiturary, Han once said:
I write as an Asian, with all the pent-up emotions of my people…What I say will annoy many people who prefer the more conventional myths brought back by writers on the Orient. All I can say is that I try to tell the Truth.…