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Han Suyin

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 02 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:e8667
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Han Suyin, family doctor, author, and a bridge between China and the West

During the 1950s in Malaysia, her patients addressed her as either Dr Chow, her Chinese surname, or as Dr Comber, her British husband’s surname. In literary circles and in Hollywood, she was known by the pen name Han Suyin, author of the 1952 bestselling novel A Many-Splendoured Thing, adapted in 1955 into an Oscar winning tearjerker and love story starring William Holden.

Novels and family medicine

Despite her literary fame and financial success, Han continued through the 1950s to practise family medicine in the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, part of the Singapore metropolitan area. Most of her patients were illiterate and did not know she was a famous author, says Tan Chow-wei, a senior lecturer in family medicine at the Malaysia campus of Australia’s Monash University. “She was not well known for her writings in Johor Bahru, except among the English educated,” he says.

Han, whose father was Chinese and mother Belgian, could speak to patients in Chinese, Malay, English, or French, says Tan, who has studied Han’s history at the …

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