December 13, 2005

Major Events in the Life of Sanmao

I recently read Sanmao's Crying Camels. Searching for information about Sanmao and her works in English, I found very little. There was a reference to Sanmao speaking in support of the existences of UFOs. (There is a very short description of a UFO appearance in the book Crying Camels.) I did find one essay in English, called Foreign Characters in San Mao's Short Stories, which was worth reading . This essay, like other references I have seen in English, refer to her writing as "autobiographical fiction" or "travel fiction." Personally, I would not attempt to classify her writing because I do not know how much is true and how much is fiction. When talking to a Chinese coworker about Sanmao, he even doubted that Sanmao's husband Jose (Hexi) existed. This is definitely an overreaction, the kind of cynicism of someone afraid of looking overly credulous.

Instead of writing a review of Crying Camels, which is the third and best book by Sanmao that I have read, I decided to translate a timeline of her life. This timeline is taken from an appendix in Sanmao's Crying Camels (哭泣的駱駝).

Major Events in Sanmao's Life

Original name: Chen Ping (陳平) [Note: In the introduction to Sahara Stories (撒哈拉的故事), Sanmao's father writes that her given name was Chen Maoping (陳懋平), but the middle character was dropped because Sanmao did not care for it.]
From Zhejiang Dinghai. Born March 26, 1943.
Sanmao's love of reading was evident in her early childhood. At five and a half years old she read Hong Lou Meng (A Dream of Red Mansions). By middle school, she had exhaustively read almost all the great works of world literature available on the market.
In her second year of middle school, she discontinued schooling, and under her parents' tutelage, she established a firm base in the subjects of poetry, the Chinese classics, and English. She studied painting under the teaching of painters Gu Fusheng, and later Shao Youxuan.
In 1964 she received special permission from the founder of Chinese Culture University to audit classes in the philosophy department. She obtained outstanding grades for her class work.
In 1967, she again left school, and traveled to Spain, alone. In the following three years, she studied at Spain's Madrid University and German's Goethe Institute. Later, at America's Illinois University, she worked in the library of law. These experiences were greatly beneficial in her life and further language studies.
In 1970, she returned to Taiwan, and was employed by Zhang Qiyun to teach in Chinese Culture University's German department and philosophy department. After her fiancé died, in anguish, she left Taiwan once again, and went to Spain. She reunited with Jose, who had been in love with her for six years.
In 1973, she married Jose at a courthouse in the Spanish-controlled Sahara desert.
Her time in the desert stimulated her latent writing talent. Under the encouragement of Ping Xintao, editor in chief of the United Daily News, Sanmao began producing a stream of works, which were then collected in book form. Her first work, Sahara Stories, was published in May of 1976.
On September 30, 1979, Sanmao's husband, Jose, died in a diving accident. Sanmao returned to Taiwan under her parents' support.
In 1981, Sanmao decide to end her 14 years of wandering the globe and settle down in Taiwan.
In November of the same year, United Daily News sponsored Sanmao in half a year of traveling in South America. After returning to Taiwan, she wrote about her experiences in the book Qianshan-Wanshui Zou Pian (千山萬水走篇), and went on an island-wide lecture tour.
Sanmao then returned to Chinese Culture University, this time in the arts and literature department, teaching creative writing and essay composition. Her classes were well liked by students.
In 1984, Sanmao resigned due to health reasons, and focused on writing and lecturing.
In 1989, she returned to her native home in China for the first time, and found that she had many readers there. While in China, she fulfilled a long-term wish and met Zhang Leping, the author of the Sanmao comics.
In 1990, she completed her first movie script, Red Dust (滾滾紅塵). This was to be her last work.
Sanmao died in April of 1991 at 48 years old.

Note: Although her name is written as "San Mao" in much of the English writing about her, I prefer to use "Sanmao" so that it does not appear that her surname is "San." Note that this is the same nickname as Jackie Chan's opera school big brother, Sammo Hung (洪金寶). "Sammo" is the Cantonese pronunciation.

Related post: Review of Sanmao's Nao Xue Ji


  • Dear writer,

    I have been looking for some information about Sanmao and I must tell your article is one that has given me more information about her and her life. I have been trying to look for one of her books to read and then understand why, my girlfriend, a lovely chinese girl is so addicted to them. She always talk about Sanmao and her husband Jose. I would be really pleased if you could give any information that help me to get one her best books in English.


    Jose Vazquez jose_vaz@teleline.es

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 19, 2006 6:06 AM  

  • Hi, I'm glad you found the information useful. The reason I wrote it out is because there is so little information on Sanmao available in English. So, unfortunately, I can't recommend any books about her in English because I haven't seen any (and I have done some looking). I have a book about her in Chinese, and I may post about that some time in the future, but probably not for a few months.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at April 20, 2006 7:11 PM  

  • Having read almost all of Sanmao's work in Chinese, I have to say there's a possibility some stories may indeed have been fictional, or somewhat fictional. Take the story "Crying Camel" - there indeed was a Saharawi resistance leader named "Basiri" (Full name is Muhammad Sidi Brahim Bassiri), much revered by Saharawis. However Bassiri disappeared in 1970, and was widely believed to have been murdered by the Spanish. The description of the "Green March" in the story would date it to late 1975. So unless at the time there was ANOTHER famous resistance leader by the same name, I would have to question whether the story was entirely real. I can still enjoy Sanmao's writings no problem, but I would take it with a grain of salt, as it were.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 23, 2006 8:35 AM  

  • Hi, I totally agree with you that the searching result of english versions of Saomao's articule is nearly hopeless. I don't think my english is good enough to translate but for the understandingness and touchingness of her stories I am so willing to look for someone to join me on this translation projects. There is this kind of love story still existing among us which most of westerns don't really believe in. And I truly want to show them this. Please let me know how you think. My email is nirvanajq@hotmail.com Thank you.

    Kind regards,

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 22, 2007 5:52 AM  

  • From time to time chinese people come to my parents house in Gran Canaria, just to see from our garden the house where Jose María and Echo lived. It always annoying for our family that Echo, or Sanmao for you, was so popular that some people just doubt about her feelings and try to hurt her memories.

    Unfortunately I have never been able to read any of her books, however, even when I was a child when Jose María died, he existed for sure.

    By Blogger Modesto Castrillón, at April 08, 2007 8:13 PM  

  • Dear writer,

    I also got to know echo`s story indirectly. My girlfriend is chinese and she loved her stories from her childhood.

    I am spanish and in our last trip to my homeland we decided to go to Canary Islands to trace back all the information about Jose.

    As you mentioned, some people say he never existed and we wanted to find a light about that.

    We went to La Palma (small island 30 minutes by plane from Tenerife) and in the civil register we found the register of Jose`s death in 30 september of 1979.

    After that we reached the cemetery of la Palma to discover that, unfortunately, nobody had cared about Jose`s grave. It was hard to see that the tombstone had already disappeared and a person so important for thousands of readers had to be in that anonimity.

    They say in China that we only live once but our name can exist for generations. I hope from now more people will pay visit to Jose and thank him for supporting Echo and her writting talent.

    P.D here there`s the blogg of my girlfriend where she relates all that happened in a day that for sure she and I will never forget.


    By Anonymous xavier, at August 04, 2007 1:11 AM  

  • Xavier,

    After Echo's death I do not knoe if Jose Maria's family did take care of his grave in La Palma.

    At that time they were not living there but in Gran Canaria, just beside us. Her parents were also visiting them when Jose María suffered the accident.

    Si quieren saber alguna cosa más quizás sea mejor que me escriban de forma directa.

    By Blogger Modesto Castrillón, at August 31, 2007 8:25 PM  

  • Dear writer,
    Thank you so much for the information on Sanmao and her life. The information was really good.
    Thank you again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 12, 2007 9:30 PM  

  • Hi, I´d like to introduce you to my blog. Pop up as often as you feel like.

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 18, 2008 7:22 PM  

  • Dear All,

    I am so glad that I could find some useful information about Echo here, I am a chinese girl, 25 years old; My husband is Dutch, 26years old, we are living and working in Guangzhou,China.

    We are flying to Europe the day after tomorrow for visiting my parents-in-law and other relatives in Holland and Belgium. We will also have a holiday in Les Canarias for 8 days during our 3 weeks trip in Europe, and Echo is the reason for this trip, my husband knew I am addicted to Echo and Jose, and the island they lived, so he arranged this trip to realize my biggest dream since childhood, this can be also called our honey-moon trip.

    Xavier, thank you and your girlfriend, I read her blog about Jose just now and noted some useful information about Jose, really thank you guys very much! I will go to visit him this month and I also would like to visit Echo's old house near the seaside of Telde, Gran Canaria, till now, I haven't found out the exact address of it, do you or your girlfriend have any information about that?

    Dear Modesto Castrillón, your parents are really the new owner of Echo's old house in Telde of Gran Canaria? I am so exited for knowing this, in one of Echo's articles, she mentioned that she sold the house to a local couple with less than half of the market price, is that couple your parents? If it is true.Can I visit your parents and have a look; I know this might be very annoying for your life, but just like Xavier's girlfriend, I adore Echo since I was 12 years old, I have read all her words, I have collected a lot of her pictures and speech tapes and even video; could you please try to understand my feeling about Echo and Jose and their stories, and do me a favor? I will be very grateful for your kindness, thank you very much!


    Mingxia Sun

    Email: deliasmx@hotmail.com

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 09, 2008 4:18 PM  

  • Hi MingXia,
    Just wondering if you have any update info about your trip to Gran Canaria relating to Sanmao to share with us?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 21, 2008 7:00 AM  

  • A lot of my Chinese friends have been recommending this writer for such a long time, and since my Chinese still isn't good enough to read her novels I'm getting really frustrated that there are no available translations. But at least there's some info on her here... which sadly makes it even more painful.

    / Swedish "googler".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 28, 2008 7:41 AM  

  • I'm translating her Sahara Stories, and posted a first draft of a translation of one of them. http://slumsofshaolin.blogspot.com/2009/05/san-mao-translation-child-bride.html

    By Blogger Jeff Rutsch, at June 17, 2009 2:11 PM  

  • oho good dear !!!! very interesting blog and a good posting !!! you must maintain your blog, its interesting !!! Nice Buddy

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    By Blogger marry, at December 19, 2009 9:23 PM  

  • Thank God for the love of Echo/Sanmao still contiues. It is not just her stroy that is captivating but most had overlooked her spirit of how she carried herself as a Chinese in her many journeys and how she can relate to something or someone in her most specialway that matters. her stories were publised in Reader Digest so I am very sure they had verified of her account of her stories. I would like to know if someone can tracked back to all her journey and write a guide to visit those places.

    By Blogger Edward, at February 26, 2010 5:24 PM  

  • Ever since I started reading the first page Of The Sahara Story at age of 14, I couldn't help reading all her works.

    Because of Echo, thousands and thousands of Chinese people had been facinating about Spain and North Africa. And most of all , about the love and death of this legendary woman.

    I laughed and I cried for her stories, a lot.

    How people in Spain or in Gran Canaria could even realize that the lonely unreconized departing tome of Jose in their land, had been memorized and mourned by thousands of Chinese people who have never ever been to this country.

    I used to cry for his death, too, everytime when I read about the romantic poet that his wife left........

    Thank you, Xavier and your girlfriend, for visiting Jose for Echo and all of the readers

    Elaine Ho from HongKong

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 22, 2010 12:25 PM  

  • Please visit the picture on this site:

    the writer has visited Echo and Jose's living place in Gran Canaria , as well as their neighbours


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 22, 2010 1:32 PM  

  • Here are more information about Sanmao and her works both in English and Chinese if you are interested.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 20, 2011 6:20 AM  

  • I've loved Sanmao all my life. My dad bought me a book called "背影" as a gift when I was in third grade. I loved her style ever since. I collected all her books through our my years during elemental and middle school. The year she died I was in high school. I wrote a poem for her, and then burned the poem so she would receive my thoughts. Now I am in my thirties and her book traveled with me from China to America, to Middle east and other parts of the world. I want to visit South America because of her. Her words still bring the most beautiful emotion inside me.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 10, 2013 8:34 PM  

  • It seems this post is still open. I am Spanish and I learnt of SanMao while my travels in China. Now I am back in Spain, although my head and heart are in China. I would love to read some of her books, maybe nowadays there is some published in English but cannot find any. If any of you knows something, please let me know it :)

    By Blogger Emilio Jose Garcia Tormo, at March 02, 2014 7:07 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Graciela González, at October 02, 2016 9:12 AM  

  • Dear writer, I'm looking forward for an english or spanish version for Sahara Stories, Sanmao wrote. I remember I did read some abstract or fragments in Reader's Digest magazine and I love her book, but I cannot find it. Please let me now about.

    By Blogger Graciela González, at October 02, 2016 9:18 AM  

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