There was a time when being Eurasian could get you killed. I don't remember this myself because I was only 2, but my mother tells the story of how, in 1967, we were nearly lynched by Maoists amid riots in Hong Kong. I was the provocation, being in the eyes of the mob the detestable spawn of her traitorous union with a Westerner. We fled for our lives to the cries of "Bastard!" and "Whore!"
The Belgian-Chinese novelist Han Suyin, born Elisabeth Chow in China's Henan province in 1917, was painfully familiar with this kind of race hatred. But far from hindering her, the prejudice she experienced as a child inspired a blend of defiance and pride that she expressed in her 1952 novel A Many-Splendoured Thing: "We must carry ourselves with colossal assurance and say, 'Look at us, the Eurasians! ... The meeting of both cultures, the fusion of all that can become a world civilization.'" It was an epoch-shifting outburst. Prior to reading Han, Eurasians tended to identify, somewhat apologetically, with either our Asian or European sides. But her writings opened up an infinitely richer middle ground that belonged to us alone.
Han was never consistent, and her life and corpus (nine novels, 10 autobiographical works, seven volumes of history) are full of contradictions. A militant anti-imperialist, she married a British special-branch officer at the height of the Malaya Emergency. Slighted by the Chinese, she named herself after the Han, China's dominant ethnic group, and became an apologist for Mao. Despite what she called an "inescapable passion" for China, she spent much of her life in Singapore and India and now resides, at age 89, in Switzerland. But, in the end, Eurasians forgive her idiosyncrasies, because in giving us our identity she gave us everything. "Only I had the courage ... to scream against the general contempt for Eurasians," Han wrote of her early struggle. Today, in a time of globalization, Eurasians are envied for a look and a biculturalism that have become bankable commodities. We gaze upon a very different world, and it was Han Suyin who led us here.