This session will introduce the life and work of Han Suyin (pen name), who wrote about her Hakka ancestors in the western part of China in her autobiography The Crippled Tree (1965). Her account of Hakka migration theory was integrated with stories about her father and her third uncle. Her ancestral Hakka roots in Szechuan (Sichuan) might have afforded her the rare opportunity to conduct government-approved research at a commune in Tibet (See Lhasa, The Open City: A Journey to Tibet, 1977). At the time of the cold war, her sympathetic account of leaders of the newly emerging People’s Republic of China was much criticized. China experts such as Robert Elegant described her as an “outmoded sycophant” and fellow Belgian Simon Leys (also pen name) castigated her for her account of Tibet as Maoist. A trained medical doctor graduated from University of London Medical School (without the support of her first husband), she later left medical practice and became a writer, authoring of over 30 books in multiple languages. She wrote about China and the Hakka identity from her family stories and personal experiences. At the time when most China experts were men who emphasized professionalism over experiences and story telling, Suyin was not considered a sinologist even though she wrote widely on the subject. The panel will explore whether she was a victim of gender biases, or whether her life and work deserved further explorations.
- Dr. Keith D. Lowe
- Dr. Bayer Jack-Wah Lee