In Memory of Han Suyin (Elizabeth Comber), – writer and doctor, born 12 September 1917; died 2 November 2012 [Updated Aug 17, 2014]

Although she has written extensively and her works include biographies, memoirs and fiction Han Suyin (1917 -2012 ), the pseudonym of Dr. Elizabeth Comer, probably will be best remembered for her 1952 autobiographical novel A Many-Splendoured Thing which served as the basis for the film Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing .

Born Zhou Guang-Hu (or Chou Kuanghu) on September 12, 1917 in Xinyang, Henan Province, China, one of eight children born to a Chinese engineer and a Belgian mother, she was alternately known as Elisabeth Rosalie Matthilde Clare Chou. While still in her teens, she began working as a typist at Beijing Hospital. In 1933, Han Suyin enrolled at Yanjing University (now part of Beijing University) and two years later, she traveled to Brussels to pursue medical studies. With the Japanese invasion of China in 1938, she returned to her native land and began working as a midwife at an American-run Christian mission hospital in Sichuan province. With the assistance of an unnamed American female missionary, she wrote and published her first book, the autobiographical novel, Destination Chungking (Little Brown, 1942). Set against the unfolding Sino-Japanese conflict, the novel presented an idealized – one might almost say romanticized – version of Han Suyin’s life up to that point, but the American public wasn’t all that interested and the book languished on the shelves before falling out of print. It would be ten years before she published a second book.

In the meantime, Han Suyin moved to England to attend the School of Medicine at the University of London, graduating four years later as a doctor. By 1949, she had settled in Hong Kong where she established a medical practice. Four years later, she moved to Johore, Malaya (now Malaysia) to work in a hospital devoted to patients with tuberculosis. By that time, she had completed another novel, the autobiographical A Many-Splendoured Thing (Little, Brown, 1952) which drew on her experiences in Hong Kong and fictionalized a relationship with a British foreign correspondent who was killed in Korea. The novel became a best-seller and served as the basis for the 1955 motion picture, Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing, and a 1967 daytime drama of the same title.

Like many physicians who also write, Han Suyin continued to practice medicine for many years before eventually deciding to devote time to literary pursuits. Over the course of the next four and a half decades, she produced almost twenty books, all of which detail aspects of Asian life, most of which are drawn from personal experience. These include …And the Rain My Drink ( Little, Brown, 1956) set during the waning years of British rule in Malaysia, The Mountain is Young (Putnam, 1958), set in Nepal, and Till Morning Comes (Bantam, 1982) which depicts a romance between a doctor and a journalist.

In addition, Han Suyin has also written several nonfiction works, many of which have engendered controversy over her seemingly pro-Communist bent, such as Lhasa, the Open City: A Journey to Tibet (Jonathan Cape, 1977) in which she praises the effects of Chinese rule in Tibet, her two-volume reverential biography of Mao Tsetung, The Morning Deluge: Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Revolution, 1893-1954 (Little, Brown 1972) and Wind in the Tower: Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Revolution, 1949-1975 (Little, Brown, 1976), and her noteworthy if somewhat effusive profile of Mao’s successor, Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China, 1898-1976 (Hill and Wang, 1994).

Han Suyin was married three times. In 1938, she wed Tang Paohuang (a.k.a. Pao H. Tang), a Chinese Nationalist who achieved the rank of general and who was killed in conflict in 1947. In 1952, she married British civil servant Leonard F. Comber but that marriage proved an unhappy one and the couple divorced. Her third husband was a colonel in the Indian army, Vincent Ratnaswamy. Despite separating from him, they remained married until his death in 2003.
Below are some of her works,

Destination Chungking (1942)
The Mountain Is Young (1958)
Winter Love (1962)
Cast But One Shadow (1962)
Four Faces (1963)
L’abbé Pierre (1965, French only)
L’abbé Prévost (1975, French only)
Till Morning Comes (1982)
The Enchantress (1985)

Autobiographical works
A Many-Splendoured Thing (1952)
And the Rain My Drink (1956)
The Crippled Tree (1965)
A Mortal Flower (1966)
Birdless Summer (1968)
My House Has Two Doors (1980)
Phoenix Harvest (1982)
Wind In My Sleeve (1992)
A Share of Loving (1988)
Fleur de soleil, histoire de ma vie (1988, French only: Flower of sun: the story of my life)

Historical studies
China in the Year 2001 (1967)
Asia Today: Two Outlooks (1969)
The Morning Deluge: Mao Tsetong and the Chinese Revolution 1893-1954 (1972)
Lhasa, the Open City (1976)
Wind in the Tower: Mao Tsetong and the Chinese Revolution, 1949-1965 (1976)
China 1890-1938: From the Warlords to World War (1989; historical photo-reportage)
Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China (1994)

Copyright from Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center


Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955).

Engelbert Humperdinck – Love is a many splendored thing


Andy Williams – Love Is A Many Splendored Thing

Love is a many splendored thing by The Four Aces


One thought on “In Memory of Han Suyin (Elizabeth Comber), – writer and doctor, born 12 September 1917; died 2 November 2012 [Updated Aug 17, 2014]

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