Writer Han Suyin dies at 95 in Lausanne

Updated: 2012-11-05 08:11

By Mei Jia (China Daily)

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Writer Han Suyin dies at 95 in Lausanne

Chinese-British writer and physician Elizabeth Comber, whose pen name was Han Suyin, died at the age of 95 on Friday at her home in Lausanne, Switzerland.

A memorial service will be held in Lausanne on Thursday, her family told Xinhua.

The biographer of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, Comber, a writer of both fiction and nonfiction works, is the author through whom most English- and French-speaking readers got their earliest images and understanding of China.

The Chinese-American writer Frank Chin credits her with being one of the few who "(wrote) knowledgeably and authentically of Chinese fairy tales, heroic tradition and history" in his essay Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake.

Her semi-autobiographic novel, A Many Splendored Thing, was made into a Hollywood hit in the 1950s, winning three Oscars.

Shuttling between China and the Western world, Comber had a colorful life, which was also deeply rooted in her unstoppable pursuit of telling real Chinese stories to her world audience.

Comber was born Rosalie Elisabeth Kuanghu Chow in Henan province in 1917 to a Chinese father who was a railway engineer and a Belgian mother from an aristocratic family.

Young Comber dreamed of being a doctor and she pursued the dream by studying medicine in Yenching University and later in Brussels and London.

In Brussels she developed a strong literary interest and eagerly read the masterpieces.

Looking back on her days in Chengdu, where she worked as a midwife, she got the inspiration for her debut novel Destination Chungking (Chongqing). With help from a US colleague, the book was published in the United Kingdom and the United States, which boosted her writer's career.

"In my memory, my mother was always busy working in hospitals during the daytime, and busy writing and translating in her spare time at home," her daughter Tang Yungmei told the Guangzhou Daily.

Comber lived in different countries with her second husband, Leon F. Comber, a British officer and later publisher, and with her third husband, Vincent Ratnaswamy, an Indian colonel. Her fiction and nonfiction, written in both English and French, recreated her own experiences and the China she saw during her stays. Eventually, she settled down in Lausanne.

As a British citizen, she was among the first foreign nationals to visit China after 1949. Her photos appeared on the news with leaders who she came to know well. She also funded or helped establish several Chinese literary awards to encourage young writers and translators.


(China Daily 11/05/2012 page2)