A many-splendored thing is the best way to describe the life of Dr. Han Suyin @ Elizabeth Comber @ Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chow, (12 September 1917 – 2 November 2012), to borrow from her famous novel cum autobiography.
I’ve first came across Han’s book Destination Chungking among others in the termite infested part of my grandfather’s old shop, all ready for the huge rubbish bin across the road. Those were the remaining piles of books belonging to daddy and his English reading siblings. As a curious teenager at that time, I skimmed through some of it and immediately attracted to Destination Chungking for a reason that I somehow don’t know and took it home, placed it in my study. I never venture beyond page 1 of that book.
All was forgotten about Dr. Han until many years later when I was in Auckland that I came across her another book Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China at a bookstore in Queen’s Street Auckland during a movie day out. At that time, my interest towards Chinese history was gaining momentum, and without hesitate, I bought the book. Soon I found myself searching for her books at second hand bookshops around Auckland, Melbourne and Penang and became a proud owner of most of her English books.
It turn out to be that she is also the favourite author of most of my elder friends but I have been reading her books for years without knowing that Dr. Han is an Eurasian until I read her obituary a few days back. Whatever her origin was is not important for she bring out the best of literature combining the Eastern and Western spheres of the globe on which her life touches upon.
Dr. Han had lived through the most interesting part of the 20th century at the epic of where histories were made and she brought history out to the readers via her novels. She witnessed the China that was on its knees as well as the China of today. She lived briefly within the Empire that is akin to the sun that will never set but the sun did set. Arising from the ashes of World War 2 came and went Communism. Now it is the Internet and social media that rules. I always wonder, if she is to write again, what will she write?
Reposer en paix, Dr. Han