by Han Suyin
Han Suyin is the pen name for Elizabeth Combers. She was born of a Chinese father and Belgian mother in 1917 in Henan, China as Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou. Her father studied in Belgium and became an engineer for the Belgian-owned Chinese railroad. The story of how he met and married Han Suyin’s mother in told in The Crippled Tree, the first in this autobiographical series.
Han Suyin, or Rosalie, became a typist at the Peking Union Medical College when she was just 15 years old. Having been educated by the nuns in a girls’ school, she spoke French and English. She hired a tutor and studied hard to catch up on her Chinese skills and science to enter the Yenching University medical school in 1933.
Later she studied in Brussels, and in 1944, graduated with honors with a degree in Medicine and Surgery from the Royal School of Medicine in London. Her first husband, a Nationalist military officer was killed in action.
In Hong Kong she worked in a hospital where she met and fell in love with a married Australian war correspondent, Ian Morrison. The story of their love affair became the well-known novel and movie, A Many-Splendored Thing. Morrison was killed in Korea in 1950.
You can read her more recent autobiography, My House Has Two Doors (1980) or read the trilogy written in the 1960s. The Cultural Revolution has yet to take place as she writes her story of coming of age and becoming a doctor. She has only praise for Mao Tse Tung at this point as she write in The Mortal Flower, sequel to The Crippled Tree. The last part of her story is told in Birdless Summer. By this time she had married a British officer, and become Elizabeth Combers.
I enjoyed reading her story even though her political insights are outdated. It gives us some idea of the feeling among educated Chinese at the time. The author died in November 2012 in Lausanne.