Thursday, July 15, 2010


Pearl Buck, Pulitzer Prize-winning American authorImage via Wikipedia
I read Pearl S. Buck's novel "The Good Earth" this past spring and recently began reading a biography of her entitled - "China's Daughter: Journey to the Good Earth" by Hilary Spurling.  Having personally lived in Hong Kong for several years, a British Colony at the time, and having traveled a bit on the Mainland of China in the late '70's and again in '07, I have an inclination of the history and the specificity of how an everyday Chinese person might view the world.  My best opportunity to observe and to understand the Chinese people was gleaned through business contact with factory owners, factory workers, Chinese administrative staff in my office, live-in household help, drivers, and dignitaries.........having encountered the dignitaries while living in New York City and meeting them through my spouse's work - he working with them, I engaged in the meeting/greeting stages of receptions and dinners. (Also in '07 we had exposure to Chinese culture at close range while visiting a daughter currently residing and working in Taipei.) But the point is, with my brief history of exposure/immersion to Chinese culture, I was fascinated with the story of "The Good Earth's" protagonist, farmer, Wang Lu, his family life, etc. ..... part of Chinese life that I really was NOT exposed to is outlined beautifully by Buck.  I found the crossover from the farmer's life into his exposure to city life real enough to see in my mind.  She was a marvelous story teller.

In the biography mentioned above, I've learned that "The Good Earth" outsold any novel of its time by 100s of thousands of copies, its writing won Ms. Buck a Pulitzer Prize, as well as garnering Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-Tung's disdain and exclusion from the country, thereby  preventing her return to China on a trip with Richard Nixon in '72.......a trip she desperately wanted to make, a trip in essence to return to her home - denied as Mao described her as an American cultural imperialist! The biography clearly outlines the details of Buck's growing up in the Chinese culture, her relating more to that environment and people  than to her own American birthplace and her citizenship of the United States.    In fact, as a child Pearl was so indoctrinated and steeped in the culture that her  first and most comfortable language was Chinese.  Her blonde hair and blue eyes were considered "ghost like" by the Chinese she encountered on a daily basis.........her Amah kept her pigtails stuffed into a small round cap preventing as much of her frightening appearance to be disguised as possible.....the blue eyes, well she just had to live with those.  Her attire was that of Chinese children of the time.

The biography further reveals Buck's marriage to a missionary engaged with the Chinese "heathens" and so steeped in his religiosity that he had little time or, in fact, personal interest in the life, emotions or survival of his wife and children - a cruel partnership for any woman to bear.  Yet, bear it she did for many years losing herself in the missionary work, the birth defect of her only child, Carol, and her adopted daughter, Janice. (In many ways Pearl's life imitated that of her parents - the father preoccupied with his work, and the mother devastated by the deaths of several of their children to various diseases that decimated the Chinese population with whom they resided.) With occasional trips back to the States, Buck realized that her true home was China.  Her love for the Chinese people was manifested in not only "The Good Earth" but in many books, magazine articles, and lectures that she churned out often from thinly disguised experiences of her personal life.

If you've ever had any curiosity about China, I highly recommend both "The Good Earth" and Hilary Spurling's "China's Daughter: Journey to the Good Earth."  No curiosity for China - well take a quick look at my reading list on the right - I've fed my personal curiosity in the past year with some great books - enjoy!  By the way, I'd love to hear your recommendations for good reads as well.  My curiosity extends to what my readers find interesting and also where they've traveled or lived for a period of their lives.

*photo from Wikipedia of Pearl S. Buck
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