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Updated: February 18, 1991 05:00 PM GMT
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San Mao, a popular Chinese novelist who recently committed suicide, had helped in Catholic film productions and expressed a wish to become a Catholic nun.

"During our last telephone conversation last Nov. 23, San Mao expressed her wish to become a Catholic nun," Jesuit Father Jerry Martinson told UCA News here Jan. 31, two weeks after the 47-year-old writer´s death.

Father Martinson, vice president of the Kuangchi Program Service (KPS), said that she could not be as she was a Protestant and more familiar with Buddhism.

San Mao, literally meaning three pennies, pseudonym of Echo Chen Ping, committed suicide Jan. 4 without leaving a note. The suicide took place in her ward in a hospital here after she underwent a minor operation.

Most of her novels are a record of people around her and her life experiences, such as her romance with her late Spanish husband Jose Maria.

Her best sellers included "Sahara Desert," "Tender Night," "End of the Rainy Season," "Scarecrow" and "The Death of Jose."

She wrote many film scripts, among them "Red Dust," which won eight of the 16 awards in the 1990 Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan, including best actress, best director and best picture.

Father Martinson, who knew her for years, said: "She desired to escape from her fame´s pressure and emotional entanglements, and to reunite with Jose, a Spanish Catholic, who died while diving. His death was a trauma in her life."

Antoine Saint-Exupery´s "The Little Prince" was her favorite reading. "At the end of the story, the Little Prince wanted to go back to his planet, reachable only through short suffering," he said.

San Mao´s closeness to the Catholic Church stemmed from her friendly relations with priests and nuns on the island.

"For years she was even closer to my younger brother Barry, also a Jesuit, at the Chingchuan parish in the Hsinchu mountains," Father Martinson said.

She translated Father Barry´s two books, "The Song of Orchid Island" and the story of his mountain parish, into Chinese.

In 1983, she took part in the KPS documentary "Inner Music" on priestly vocations, interviewing Bishop Joseph Wang Yu-jung of Taichung, Congregation of the Mission Father Gerard Beunen and Jesuit Father John Chang Tung-hsun.

"Although she was not easy to please, she liked the director, the script and us, so she didn´t change a single word in the 40-minute production," he said.

In remembrance of San Mao, China Television Service will broadcast part of the film March 10 during the KPS series "Head of the Family" airtime.

Father Martinson described her desert-story novel as "humorous, personal and about the life of love at a time Chinese were too shy to express (feelings)."

Reflecting on her death, he said, "Never forget that people spreading love and concern for others are not superhuman beings. They also need love and understanding. Probably she didn´t receive what she needed in using her time and talent for others."

The Jan. 31 editorial of the Taipei archdiocesan Christian Life Weekly gave a different view. Headlined "Suicide is a Fabricated Behavior," the article noted the conflicts between her suicide and her writings on love and respect for life that attracted many young readers.

"Does it mean that her splendid words are all deceptive? Or, does she finally take a concrete way to negate the truth she once witnessed?" it asked.

The editorial then explained the meaning of life and reasons for suicide.

Mary Shen Chin-hui, chief editor of Jesuit-run Kuangchi Press, said Jan. 30: "In terms of writing, San Mao from her first desert story on developed narcissism around herself and she never went any further in her about 20 later novels."

News of San Mao´s sudden death was also reported in the press in Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China and other Chinese communities.

According to Ta Kung Pao in Hong Kong Feb. 3, two special publications on San Mao were issued in Beijing in January. At least 13 of her works have been published and sold on the mainland, the pro-Beijing Chinese daily added.


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