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In 1949, in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, Eurasian doctor Han Suyin is summoned to the hospital emergency ward to tend to a young Chinese girl. Suyin's friend, British doctor John Keith, places the dedicated Suyin in charge of the refugee, and soon after, invites her to attend a cocktail party with him. At the party, Suyin explains to Adeline Palmer-Jones, the snobbish wife of one of the hospital directors, that her mother was English and her father Chinese, and that she considers herself Chinese, even though she studied medicine in England. While discussing her intention to return to China to help her people, Suyin captures the attention of American newspaper correspondent Mark Elliott, who later asks her out. Intrigued but uncertain, Suyin tells Mark that he may call her, and later, as John drives her home, he informs her that Mark is married. Suyin shrugs off John's concern by speculating that Mark will not call her, but when she returns to her room, the phone is already ringing. Suyin agrees to dine with Mark, and as they talk, Mark learns that Suyin, who is surprisingly superstitious, is the widow of a murdered Chinese Nationalist general. Days later, Suyin tends to the little girl, who has been named Oh-No, and engages in a political debate with Chinese doctor Sen, who believes that the Communist takeover in China has benefited the people, even though Hong Kong is flooded with refugees fleeing the new government. Later, after speaking with Mark, who is going to Singapore on an assignment, Suyin goes into town, where she meets Suzanne, a childhood Eurasian friend. When Suzanne tells Suyin that she now passes for English and is having an affair with an important, married Englishman, Suyin scolds Suzanne for denying who she truly is. Later, John again warns Suyin to be discreet in her relationship with Mark, whose wife lives in Singapore. The next day, when Mark comes to find Suyin at the hospital, he is met by Adeline, who pointedly asks him about his wife in front of Suyin. Mark and Suyin then go to a beach, and there, Mark tells Suyin that he and his wife have been separated and have not spoken for six years. When Mark attempts to express his feelings for her, Suyin gently quiets him, stating that she does not want to complicate her life. The couple then visits Suyin's friends, Robert and Nora Hung, and spends a pleasant evening with them. When they return to the beach, Suyin can no longer contain her growing attraction to Mark and tells him that the Eastern and Western sides of her nature are debating what she should do. The next day, they meet on a hillside near the hospital, and Suyin is happy to see a butterfly land on Mark's shoulder, which she regards as a good omen. Later, Suyin tells Mark that she has received an urgent summons from Third Uncle, the head of her family, to return to Chungking. Mark does not want her to go, but Suyin asserts that she needs time alone, to adjust to the possibly sordid implications of their relationship. Infuriated, Mark replies that she is too sensitive, and that he loves her. Suyin claims that love does not justify everything, and the angry Mark retorts that she does not need to run away to rid her conscience of him. On the airplane to Chungking, Suyin meets Suzanne and is surprised to learn that her paramour is Palmer-Jones. After being greeted by her family, Suyin learns that her sister Suchen has brought disgrace on the family by seeking refuge with a foreigner because she fears that the Communists will kill her. Suyin visits the girl, who states that Suyin has nothing to fear because she can return to Hong Kong. Suyin allays Suchen's fears by promising to obtain a passport for her. That night, Suyin is summoned to the main room, where the family has gathered to greet the just-arrived Mark. Mark explains to Suyin that he could not let her go, and wants to obtain a divorce in order to marry her. Surrendering to her love for Mark, Suyin states that she will always do what he wants, then receives permission from Third Uncle to marry Mark. While Mark goes to Singapore to confront his wife, Suyin busies herself with work and tending to Oh-No, and relaxes with Nora, Suzanne and her American friend, Ann Richards, who all caution her about the difficulities she will experience if she marries Mark. Suyin is too happy to take them seriously, although when Mark returns to Hong Kong, he sadly tells her that his wife will not grant him a divorce. Suyin assures Mark that nothing is different between them, and says she will live with the hope that his wife will change her mind. Later, the couple meets on their hilltop, and Mark asks Suyin to join him in Macao, to which he must go for a story. Suyin agrees, but as she is leaving, Adeline warns her that Palmer-Jones does not approve of her relationship with Mark. In Macao, Suyin and Mark are thrilled to be alone together, and Mark quotes Francis Thompson's poem about love being a "many-splendored thing." Their joy is cut short, however, when Mark receives orders to cover the just-erupted war between North and South Korea. Back at the hospital, Suyin learns that while she was away, there was an explosion in the harbor, and that she has been dismissed for being absent. Sen tells Suyin that she was fired because she is Eurasian, but Suyin refuses to listen to his entreaties to return to China. Suyin then meets Mark on their hillside one last time, and when Mark urges her not to be sad, Suyin bravely hides her tears until Mark leaves. Suyin and Oh-No, who has been released to her care, move in with Nora while Suyin looks for a job. Suyin's only happines comes from Mark's frequent letters, which she treasures. In Korea, Mark is typing a letter to Suyin when a butterfly lands on his typewriter, and he smiles, remembering her belief in omens. Later, in Hong Kong, Suyin is writing a good-luck prayer in Chinese, hoping that it will help Mark, when Oh-No accidentally spills her red ink. At the same time that the ink is spilled, a bomb drops on Mark's camp in Korea and he is killed. Shortly after, Suyin learns of Mark's death, and in horror and disbelief, runs out of Nora's house. She climbs up to their hillside and sobs in grief while remembering Mark's words about her ability to help others. Recalling one of Mark's letters, which promised, "We have not missed, you and I, we have not missed that many-splendored thing," Suyin dries her tears and begins to walk down the hill.