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Pearl S. Buck, American Author of China

Updated on July 17, 2016
Marie Flint profile image

Marie studied English at Michigan State University, published two children's shorts, and has her childhood stories published in an eBook.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) | Source

Books Published 1929 - 1941

  1. East Wind: West Wind (1929)
  2. The Good Earth (1931)
  3. Sons (1932)
  4. The Mother (1933)
  5. The House of Earth (1935)
  6. The Fighting Angel (1936)
  7. This Proud Heart (1938)
  8. The Patriot (1939)
  9. Portrait of a Marriage (1940)
  10. Dragon Seed (1941)

Foreword

Among the family legacy were books from the foregoing generation--hard cover books with dried binding and yellowing pages. Among these was East Wind: West Wind, which quickly became a favorite because the mood created within its pages was very different from other popular novels of the time. Addressing the reader as "my sister," the author pulled the reader into an intimacy normally held only by a dear friend, a trusted friend with whom secrets could be shared and whose presence remained an influence forever. The author of the novel was Pearl S. Buck.


"I have a secret I can only share with you, dear sister. Only you can I confide. Deep have been the sorrows of my heart. Deep has been the longing for the washing away of these doubts, fears, and confusions which have overshadowed me. Come with me, and let me tell you my story."

Pearl's Birthplace in Virginia
Pearl's Birthplace in Virginia | Source

Early Years

Pearl was the seventh and youngest child of Caroline and Absalom Sydenstricker, who were Southern Presbyterian missionaries serving in China. The missionary parents had performed God's work twelve years before losing two sons to a tropical disease. Needing to recuperate from their losses, they returned to Hillsboro, Virginia, where Pearl was born. When the baby became three months of age, the dedicated couple obliged to continue their work in China--Absalom touring the countryside for converts, and Caroline operating her dispensary where she tended to China's needy women.

Homeschooling and a Chinese tutor became the Pearl's method of learning in Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) until she had to flee to Shanghai with her mother and siblings in 1900 due to the Boxer Rebellion, an effort by Chinese traditionalists to rid their country of all foreigners.

The modern map below shows the relationship between the cities of Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) and Shanghai along the Yangtze River.

Mrs. Sydenstricker and the children anxiously awaited news of Absalom's fate for several months, Finally, the family reunited and returned to the States.

While the parent missionaries resumed their work in China, 18-year-old Pearl attended Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she studied for four years. Shortly after graduation, she left for China in spite of her desire to stay in the U.S. because her mother had fallen ill.

In China she met her future husband, John Lossing Buck, an agricultural economist who was also doing missionary work for the Presbyterian church. Pearl served as his interpreter, and they married in 1917. Three years later the couple birthed a daughter, who unfortunately suffered from phenylketonuria (PKU), resulting in mental retardation. Pearl also had an hysterectomy relative to this birth. Desiring another child, the couple adopted another girl in 1925.

Books Published 1943-1956

  1. The Promise (1943)
  2. China Flight (1945)
  3. Pavilion of Women (1946)
  4. The Big Wave (1947)
  5. Peony (1948)
  6. Once Upon a Christmas (1950)
  7. Hidden Flower (1952)
  8. My Several Worlds (1954)
  9. Imperial Woman (1956)
  10. Death in the Castle (1956)

A Brief Overview of Her Writing

Pearl began writing essays for magazines in the 1920s. She wrote consistently and published a book, fiction and non-fiction, almost annually. The Good Earth brought her the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. The book was a national best seller, topped only by Gone with the Wind.

Certainly this author's life was challenging. Her mother died in 1921. Not only had she experienced the Boxer Rebellion in her youngest years, but the Nanking Incident in 1927. Her marriage to John, too, was not the happiest, having the disabled child as they did. She divorced in 1935 and later remarried Robert Walsh, her publisher.

Those who study literature have often observed that hardship seems to result in the best writing. This seems to be the case with Ms. Buck's writing. She was a prolific writer, the first American woman to become a Nobel laureate and the fourth woman to do so. Seventy (70) published novels are credited to her life's works.



"To understand the Chinese culture, you have to understand something about the values of those people, and there is no better way to connect with the emotional life of those people than through the mastery of the timeless writings of Pearl S. Buck."




Author's Note: In spite of the watermark and length of the following video, I felt it worth including because of its historical significance.

Books Published 1957 - 1970

  1. Letter from Peking (1957)
  2. Living Reed: A Novel of Korea (1963)
  3. The Time is Noon (1966)
  4. The New Year (1968)
  5. The Three Daughters of Madame Liang (1969)
  6. Mandela: A Novel of India (1970)

Other Names

Pearl's middle, birth name was "Comfort."

The author's Chinese name was "Sai Zhenzhu."

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck also used the pseudonym "John Sedges."

Author chose to keep "Buck" as her legal name after remarrying.

A Final Word

In her later years, Ms. Buck was very active in civil and women's rights, especially relevant to Asian-American relations. She founded East and West Association in 1941 and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in 1964 to address the problems of outcast Amerasian children. Her legacy continues under the auspices of the Pearl S. Buck International.

Biographical information on the Internet is extensive. The highlighted lists of her books are only partial, drawn from the lists of her most popular works. I have chosen to write about her because of the impression her book East Wind: West Wind made on me as a teenager and because of her writings in Once Upon a Christmas, an anthology of her Christmas memories and stories. Most impressive is her first story bearing the same title as the book. In her account, Ms. Buck takes in an orphaned Chinese boy. She raises him and he becomes a compassionate, dedicated doctor during the uprisings around the time of the Nanking Incident. Her concluding words of the story are as follows:

But it is not of his death that I think tonight. It is of him, as I saw him that Christmas Eve, long ago, a little child from nowhere, who came somehow to my door. ***

Your Turn

Of Ms. Buck's most popular books, which one are you most likely to read?

See results

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    • profile image

      mbuggieh 3 years ago

      Interesting subject!

      My mother loved Pearl S. Buck's books. She read "The Good Earth" to me when I was a small child. I believe that greatly shaped my life.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

      I used to love reading Pearl S Buck's books as a child. I don't even remember where they came from, maybe a book club my father belonged to but the books were really engaging and great stories.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I read The Good Earth when I was nine years old, and it was my introduction to the Chinese culture of the early twentieth century. The traditions and behaviors of the characters at turns fascinated and horrified me. For example, when the mother kills her newborn daughter during the famine, I found that action so barbaric that it preyed on my mind for a long time after I finished the book.

      Pearl Buck's understanding of the Chinese people and her skillful writing combined to make The Good Earth a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I remember it most for it giving me my first glimpse of a culture so different from my southern USA life in 1952 that it made me want to read more about other countries and their people.

      Voted Up++

      Jaye

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Jaye, thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Indeed, some cultures have practices and traditions beyond what one would regard as "civilized," including the modern American!

      When my brother was stationed in Korea around 1978 or so, he became depressed observing women throwing their babies into the sea because they couldn't feed them.

      Here we are in the 21st century, and war, oppression, starvation, and horrible diseases are still with us. It's a humbling situation that can trigger anger or depression, if one succumbs to the psychological influence of these situations. Yet, there is always hope, and I try to do a fair amount of writing to uplift the human spirit.

      I enjoy multicultural stories and articles, too.

      Thank you so much for your vote. Blessings!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for such a wonderful read on Pearl S. Buck. So inspirational and heart-warming. Now, there's a writer!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Thank you so much for sharing this great hub. Your obvious hard work has certainly paid off. Looking forward to many more and voting up.

      Eddy.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 3 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      This is my first introduction to Ms. Pearl S Buck's. She sounds like a good read that is worthy of my attention. Thanks for the info.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I made a notable change to the relationship of Robert Walsh to Pearl. Somewhere in a newspaper article relating the dispute of Pearl's family over her estate was the comment that she married "her dance instructor," referring to her second marriage. Other resources state that Walsh was editor of Collier's magazine and president of John Day publishing company. This latter role is the more feasible one in which she met Mr. Walsh; however, it is not impossible that dance may have been a hobby. Further research would be necessary to verify such a detail. Pearl's estate, I understand, is predominantly controlled by the Pearl S. Buck International. ***

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      Fascinating article! I knew that Pearl S. Buck was a distant relative of mine, and have a signed copy of her memoirs handed down through the family, but I have not read it and knew only that she was a famous writer. You have inspired me to read that book now, and several of her published books! Thank you! Voted up and interesting.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Laura, how very cool! Please do a review hub on the memoirs you have! --Blessings!

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      Thanks, Marie Flint! I'll add it to my list of "Hubs to write"! Good idea, too. Now, to find time to read her memoirs... LOL

    • einron profile image

      einron 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

      I have seen the film "Good Earth" and because I am Chinese, am interested in Pearl S. Buck 's stories about the Chinese.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Another book about China from an American's perspective is MY OWN STORY by Jean Fritz. It's an easy read and enjoyable.

    • Mihnea Andreescu profile image

      Mordred Amber-Blythe 21 months ago from Tilburg,Netherlands

      Voted up!Interesting hub.To my own shame, I did not know anything about this wonderful lady before reading your hub.Thank you.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 21 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      You're welcome, Mihnea, and thank you for the visit!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 21 months ago from United States

      I've read The Good Earth and visited her homeplace in Hillsboro, but your description of the POV in East Wind: West Wind has made me want to read it.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 21 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      You're sure to enjoy the book, Dirt Farmer. Because of the protagonist addressing the reader directly, you'll sense that intimate contact of a dear friend sharing her innermost secrets.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Blessings!

    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 21 months ago from Manila, Philippines

      Hello, Ms. Marie! Thank you so much for this brief biography of Pearl S. Buck. I recall studying one of her short stories in high school about a Chinese woman who suffered much in her lifetime. (I think it was "The Old Mother".) It was a poignant story!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 21 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Charito, thank you for reading and commenting. "The Old Mother" sounds like a wonderful story. Ms. Buck was a great story teller who mastered mood and imagery. Blessings!

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