San Mao—Taiwan's Wandering Writer

November 30, 2007
By Chen ShaohuaEditor: zhuhong

"Don't ask from where I have come,
My home is far, far away.
Why do you wander so far?
Wander so far?"

As described in the song The Olive Tree, which she wrote, San Mao roamed throughout the world in search of her own home. At the same time, she sought the olive in her dream, and she narrated moving love stories about herself.

No More Rainy Days

San Mao's family was from Dinghai, Zhejiang (today's Zhejiang Province). She was born in Chongqing (today's Chongqing Mmunicipality in Southwest China, which is directly under the Central Government in Southwest China) on March 26, 1943. Her father, Chen Siqing, was a lawyer. Her mother's name was Miao Jinlan. San Mao's given name was Chen Maoping, but, early in her life, she preferred to go by Chen Ping.

San Mao was smart and obstinate. She was fond of asking questions, leafing through books and fiddling with plants, but didn't like Western-style dolls or new clothes. After the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945), San Mao's family moved to Nanjing, Jiangsu (today's Jiangsu Province), where she finished reading the first of the many books she would read in her life. It was Winter of Three Hairs by Zhang Leping. That's why she chose San Mao (three hairs) as her pen name when she began writing.

In 1948, six-year-old San Mao moved with her parents to Taiwan, where she was enrolled in Grade 1. At that time, there were many restrictions to schoolchildren in Taiwan. Schools even administered corporal punishment. Without freedom, San Mao longed to grow up quickly.

Meanwhile, she developed an interest in literary masterpieces. In addition to works by famous Chinese writers, such as Lu Xun, Ba Jin, Bing Xin, Lao She and Yu Dafu, she was exposed to world-famous literary works, such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quixote de la Mancha and Gone with the Wind. However, she was most interested in the novel Dream of the Red Chamber. When she was in Grade 5, she placed the novel under her skirt, and she would lift her skirt to read several words whenever the teacher wrote on the blackboard.

After she entered middle school, San Mao's school record was getting bad as she spent too much time to  on reading literary works. Unfortunately, she often received very low marks, even zeros, in mathematics. One day, the math teacher embarrassed San Mao in front of her classmates: The teacher drew two big black circles around San Mao's eyes and then made her face the other students. To make matters worse, after class, the teacher made San Mao walk around the school's yard with the marks on her face. San Mao refused to cry!

The eventincident upset San Mao so much that she became indrawn and refused to have anything to do with others. She had to discontinue her schooling. For the next several years, Chen Siqing personally taught his daughter classical literature and English. He also hired tutors to teach her piano and painting. When she was 19, San Mao published, in Taiwan, her first work. Later, she resumed her education and enrolled in the philosophy department of the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan. Her aim: "To find the solution to problems in life."

Seeking Love
San Mao's parents were devout Christians, and San Mao adopted their faith. However, love was the only belief that San Mao cherished throughout her life. She was able to live for love, and she was willing to die for love.

San Mao had never intended to become a writer. When she was young, her parents and teachers often asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. San Mao usually replied that she wanted to be a great artist's wife. "Then," she would be asked, "have you a marriage partner in mind?" San Mao would answer, "That's Pablo Picasso, the Spanish painter!"

Of course, she could not have Picasso, but she did become infatuated with a talented schoolmate. She dated while she was a student, and she wrote books and tutored children. But the sensitive San Mao, while barely 20, became disillusioned with romance. To escape the depression that resulted, she moved to Madrid, Spain, where she enrolled in the University of Madrid.

In the evening, some warmhearted Spanish boys always came and to saing outside the window of San Mao's windowdormitory. Among them there was a handsome boy.  whom San Mao called him gave the Chinese name He Xi. He Xi loved San Mao, but San Mao kept him at a distance since she thought the boy was too much younger than herself.

After she completed her studies in Madrid, San Mao moved to Germany, where she studied the German language, sometimes for 16 hours a day. Within nine months, she was qualified to teach the language. After that, she began studying ceramics.

When she was 26, San Mao returned to Taiwan. Some time later, she got to know a 45-year-old teacher from Germany, and fell in love with him. They planned to get married, but her fiancé suffered a heart attack and died.

About the Sahara
Fate seemed to have determined that San Mao should live in Spain.

After she returned to Madrid, she found a job teaching English in a primary school. Since then, she earned her own living and no longer relied on her father for support.

While visiting a friend's home, unexpectedly, San Mao ran into He Xi, who had grown into a tall man with a beard. He took San Mao to his home, in which San Mao found that the pictures of her were put up everywhere. It was obvious that He had been infatuated with San Mao in the past several years as before.

San Mao had one dream: To be the first female explorer to cross the Sahara Desert. Understanding her goal, He Xi, an excellent professional diver, gave up his plan to sail with San Mao, and he applied for a job in the Sahara Desert. He traveled to Africa ahead of San Mao to prepare their camp. San Mao joined He in April 1973.

When confronted with harsh conditions in the desert, San Mao didn't lose heart. She once said, "All in all, it is valuable for a person to have more experiences in living." San Mao was also impressed by the beauty of the desert. She kept a journal, in which she noted what she saw, heard and tasted in the desert.

He and San Mao took two years to establish a beautiful home. San Mao was a good cook, and she was always willing to cook for guests, who were usually He's colleagues.

Time flew by. San Mao spent six years with He in the desert, but never expected that it would be the last time she would be happy. Before long, the Sahara Desert saw a time of turmoil. They had to leave it for a coastal region. On September 30, 1979, during the Mid-autumn Festival, He died at sea during a diving accident.

Being Weeping
In May 1982, San Mao stopped wandering throughout Central and South America to return to her parents' home in Taiwan. She accepted a position at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, where she lectured on the study of novels and the composition of prose.

News that San Mao would give lectures caused a sensation at the university. For her first lecture, the class was packed; in fact, people were lined down the hall.

In April 1989, San Mao paid a visit to mainland China, where she had been born. To that point, she had traveled to 54 countries, but her homeland remained unfamiliar to her. While in Shanghai, San Mao met Zhang Leping, the famous cartoonist and author of Winter of Three Hairs. After that, San Mao visited Dinghai, to offer sacrifices to her ancestors. She copied her family tree, took a handful of earth from her grandfather's grave and drew a bottle of water from the well at the Chen's former property.

After her visit in mainland China, San Mao put all of her energy into writing the scenario Red Dust, which was a love story set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. The film Red Dust, made from her work, was the big winner, with eight "best" awards, during Taiwan's 27th Golden Horse Film Awards in 1990.

However, San Mao did not receive an award, and she cried and became despondent.

Flowers Drop in Dream
In April 1990, during the filming of Red Dust, San Mao again visited mainland China. She took time to travel to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where she met Wang Luobin, an elderly man whom her friend had told her about. Wang and San Mao hit off, and he even wrote a song for San Mao. They stayed in contact, by letters, after San Mao returned to Taiwan.

In August 1990, San Mao returned to Xinjiang to meet Wang. But Wang, an adviser to an art troupe, was very busy, so she left. At that time, she was suffering from a fever.

On January 2, 1991, San Mao admitted herself into Rongmin General Hospital in Taiwan. She was tested—the results were negative—for cancer. On the night of January 3, she asked the nurse for a sleeping pill, and said, "Don't wake up me during the night." At 7 am on January 4, however, hospital staff found San Mao dead. She had hanged herself.

At last, San Mao's wandering heart had found a permanent home.

(Source: Women of China)

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