Many of us have heard the song Love is a Many Splendored Thing. Some of us have watched the movie of the same name and others may have even read the novel A Many Splendored Thing. However, with the passage of time, not many of us still remember the writer of the novel Han Suyin (韓素音).
Han Suyin, a Eurasian born in Henan China in 1916 to a Chinese father and a Flemish mother. She graduated MBBS in London and went to Hong Kong in 1949 to work in the Queen Mary Hospital. Her husband, Tang, died in action during the Chinese Civil War in 1947. In Hong Kong, she met and fell in love with a married man Ian Morrison, an Australian war correspondent, who was killed in Korea in 1950. It was this love that she portrayed in the book and inspired the song.
The lyrics of this well-known song captured her beautiful and yet sad story:
Love is a many splendored thing It’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living The golden crown that makes a man a king
In the film, their romantic moments occurred on a high grassy, wind-swept hill near 41 Kellet Road, Hong Kong. In the bittersweet final scene on the hilltop, the song recalled their earlier encounters:
Once on a high and windy hill In the morning mist two lovers kissed and the world stood still Then your fingers touched my silent heart and taught it how to sing Yes, true love’s a many splendored thing
Many artists have covered this song, however the version I like best is the one by Andy Williams:
Andy Williams – Love is a many splendored (NOT PERFORMANCE)
This film was set in Hong Kong, between 1949 and the start of the Korean War in 1950. The film, released in 1955, showed many places which we still know of. At the opening, there was an aerial view of the Victoria Harbour, panning from Green Island, then eastward along the harbour front towards Central. The hospital in the film was probably the Matilda Hospital.
In the film, Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) fell in love with the married but separated US correspondent Mark Elliott (William Holden) in HK. While they found brief happiness, she was banished by her Chinese community. Elliott was killed by an attacking aircraft’s bomb as the movie reached its conclusion. At the end of the film, Han Suyin returned to the scenic hillside on HK Island where they had courted, comforted only by late arriving letters from Elliott.
Some extracts of the movies are given in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFsBP1TKfaI
There are many quotes in the book which still appear to be applicable to the modern HK; a couple of these are given below:
“Hong Kong is a funny place; like a ship, and you never know what is going to happen to people in a ship.
It is true that we never know what is going to happen to HK.
“Everywhere building is going on. Hong Kong’s population is nearly three times what it was, and new arrivals from China stream in at the rate of ten thousand a week. Day and night, blasting, drilling, hammering is heard. The quiet hills are not exempt from the clang of human agitation. On the promontories, slopes and hillocks jutting from the high center of the island, the rich erect their habitations. Before any building can be done, an approach road has to be cut deep into the hillside to reach the projected residence. The top of the hill must be taken off to obtain a level surface large enough for the foundations. Work is going on at a dozen places in the hills.”
With a father who was a railway engineer, Suyin seemed to know even something about civil engineering!
The Controversial Han Suyin
Since 1956, Han Suyin visited China almost every year. This was her source for her many publications (nine novels, 10 autobiographical works, seven volumes of history). She witnessed the rise of communist in China, the reign of Mao and even the oust of the Gang of Four. In fact, she was an apologist for Mao.
Suyin is viewed as a controversial figure because of her unpopular views of world powers. Much of history, she contended, was dictated to us by the powerful.
Suyin was never consistent, and her life and corpus were full of contradictions. She now resides in Lausanne, Switzerland and is in her nineties. For those who can read Chinese, the following extract from the Economic Journal of HK published in 1984 even argued that she was an opportunist.
《信報》 凌鋒：人在香港專欄 1984.3.17
Despite all these controversies, Love is a Many Splendored Thing is still one of my favourite songs and movies!