Love is a Many Splendored Thing

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

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 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)

The Film

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

The Book

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.

韓素音由於過往熱衷吹捧毛江,以後毛死江倒,她的立場就來個大轉變
,但又不實事求是對待她過去做傳聲筒所起的惡劣作用,甚至賴掉那些白紙
黑字的東西,妄圖繼續投機,因此受到人們的譴責,自己陷於難堪的境地,
也是勢所必然。在她的一生中,恐怕沒有比此時更寂寞過。

正好手裏保存了有關資料,不妨重溫一下「四人幫」剛下台時,她講的
一些話,看看她是什麼樣的人品。

「四人幫」倒台不久,韓素音發現風頭不對了,於是趕緊回中國大陸。
出來時經過香港,香港大公報於一九七七年二月十四日為她在大會堂舉辦了
一個報告會。韓素音大談此次訪問中國的觀感。我們不妨順手拈來幾句。

韓素音說:「我是非常的不喜歡江青的。」既然不喜歡,她倒台前又何
必去力捧?捧錯就捧錯,沒有什麼了不起,何必為自己塗脂抹粉,開脫自己
的錯誤?這怎能欺騙讀者?作家欺騙讀者,以前欺騙,後來又繼續欺騙,在
讀者中還有什麼威信?韓素音這幾年來威信掃地就在於這點。韓素音為了表
示她不喜歡江青,自然要罵江青兩句。她說,江青「是一個自大狂者,她需
要一個精神病醫生」。如此與江青「劃清界限」,未免使人棒腹。這不像作
家講的話,而是像沒有文化的市井婦人講的話。

當時鄧小平還沒有復出,所以韓素音還是作為一個傳聲筒,說鄧小平還
有錯誤,「未經足夠的批評和自我批評,數次重新任用了一些幹部」。這些
「幹部」,自然包括胡耀邦。韓素音如果當時能夠預料到鄧小平將復出掌大
權,胡耀邦會成為黨的主席和總書記,那就不會那樣講呢。可惜,她只會做
傳聲筒,這也是一個投機分子的悲哀。

同年十月,韓素音在回大陸後又經過香港,再度談訪華觀感。這次她和
江青的界限劃得更深刻了。她說:「過去,除非你每月把江青的樣板戲看上
二十次,稱讚這些戲怎樣地美妙,否則你會碰上麻煩。」不知道大陸有多少
人每個月非看二十次樣板戲不可?這反映了韓素音為了看風使舵而信口雌黃
,說些淺薄無聊的話。

韓素音以後又回大陸幾次,對我來講,已不屑花費時間去看她這些講話
。隨便放個音樂錄音帶也比這種老鸚鵡學舌要來得好聽些。
[從韓素音說起.之二]

《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!