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Pearl S. Buck : Author, Political Activist, Humanitarian

Updated on July 20, 2019
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Pearl S. Buck

From The Film "The Good Earth"

Pearl S. Buck : Author, Political Activist, Humanitarian

When I completed writing the article “Han Suyin : Doctor, Author, Internationalist”, this sudden thought came to me, “What about Pearl S. Buck?” Who was Pearl S. Buck and what had she got to do with Dr. Han Suyin? Both were prolific writers, especially about life in China during those turbulent years in the first half of the 20th century and both grew up in China about the same period. While Han Suyin was most famous for her novel “A Many-splendored Thing” published in 1952, Pearl S. Buck was famous for her novel “The Good Earth”, published in 1931 which won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Pearl S. Buck became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces". Perhaps the only difference is that Han Suyin had a Chinese father and European mother, while Pearl S. Buck was an American.

Han Suyin’s “A Many-splendored Thing” was made into a movie called “Love Is A Many-splendored Thing”; while much earlier in 1937, “The Good Earth” was made into an Oscar-nominated MGM film bearing the same name, starring Paul Muni and Luise Rainer.

By the time of her death in 1973, Pearl S. Buck would have written and published over 70 books, including translations of Chinese classics, notably "All Men Are Brothers" in 1933. It is based on the Chinese classic "Bandits of the Water Margin" ( 水 滸 傳). I first read Pearl's book a very long time ago, in 1970. That book was called "The Three Daughters Of Madame Liang" published in 1969. From this book I got to know who Pearl S. Buck was. I have also watched the movie “The Good Earth”, but forgotten when. However I still remember a very touching scene showing a dark cloud of locusts attacking the farm, devouring everything within their paths.

Pearl S. Buck

Who was Pearl S. Buck

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck was born in 1892 in West Virginia, USA. Her parents were Southern Presbyterian missionaries in China. They returned to the United States for Pearl’s birth, and when pearl was three months old they took her to China in 1892. Pearl grew up in Zhenjiang, near Nanking. Her mother taught her English while a Chinese tutor taught her Chinese. She was fluent with the two languages, growing up in a totally Chinese environment and speaking Chinese. Pearl would live in China for more than 40 years of her life.

In 1911, Pearl left China to study in Lynchburg, Virginia. In 1914, Pearl returned to China and in 1917, married agricultural economist missionary, John Lossing Buck. Both made their home in Anhui Province which would become the setting for her books “The Good Earth” and “Sons”.

From 1920 to 1933, the Bucks moved to Nanking, where both taught at the Nanjing University. When the political situation became dangerously unstable, they left China for good in 1934.

In 1935 the Bucks were divorced. Subsequently, Pearl married Richard Walsh, the president publisher for Pearl’s books, John Day Company, and settled down in Pennsylvania until Richard’s death in 1960. Their old farmhouse “Green Hills Farm” in Bucks County, PA is now on the Registry of Historic Buildings.

Pearl S. Buck and humanitarian issues

Any foreigner, who had lived in China during those terrible years especially between 1900 and 1949 when China was experiencing great political turmoil, would not be able to live a life without having some psychological effect. Bringing history nearer, it was just like those returning American soldiers having seen actions in the Vietnam Wars. Only that the Chinese scenario was much longer and more terrible.

Pearl S. Buck had intimate experience with the sufferings of the Chinese people. From what she had seen and experienced in China, Pearl was to commit her life to championing issues ranging from women’s rights, adoption issues, immigration, to, of course, Asian issues and about wars. In 1949, Pearl established “Welcome House, Inc.” an international inter-racial adoption agency, with a mission to help facilitate inter-racial adoptions. Within 50 years the agency has successfully placed more than 5,000 children. In 1964, “Pearl S. Buck Foundation” (now called Pearl S. Buck International) was set up to help children in Asian countries who were not eligible for adoption. And in 1965, Pearl set up the “Opportunity Center and Orphanage” in South Korea, and subsequently in Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite spending half her life in China and the other half in the United States, she was shunned by both countries for a good part of her life. On the part of the Chinese she was treated with contempt branding her as an “American cultural imperialist” during the devastating Cultural Revolution. Pearl was heart-broken when she was denied entry into China with Richard Nixon when he visited China in 1972. While on the home front, Pearl was under attack by Senator Joseph McCarthy and other right-wing politicians for her liberal views and became a target of F.B.I. surveillance until her death. This was the heavy price she paid for her struggle for humanitarianism.

First Edition "The Good Earth" ($8,000.00)

Honors and appreciations which should have been bestowed much earlier

Pearl S. Buck died on March 6, 1973 in Danby, Vermont. True to her early Chinese “roots” and her love of China, her grave in Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, bears a tomb marker inscribed in Chinese characters (Sai Zhenzhu) denoting her name “S. Pearl”.

Pearl S. Buck was honoured in 1983 with 5-cent “Great Americans” series postage stamp issued by the US Postal Service. And in 1999, Pearl was designated a “Women’s History Month” Honoree by the National Women’s History Project.

When Oprah Winfrey in 2004, selected the “The Good Earth” as a title of her popular book club, the American public rushed to read it.

Anchee Min is a Chinese-American painter, photographer, musician and author, who lives in San Francisco and Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, Anchee Min as a typical teenager, was in one of those huge waves of over-zealous Red Guards who denounced Pearl S. Buck. She has the opportunity to read Pearl’s books in the U.S. and found that Pearl was indeed a person who truly knew and loved China and her people. Being an author, Anchee Min wrote a fiction novel “Pearl of China” as her tribute to Pearl.

Pearl’s former residence at Nanjing University has been named the Sai Zhenzhu (S. Pearl) Memorial House. When President George W Bush visited it in 1998, he acknowledged that he had learned a lot about China through Pearl’s writings.

I came across this in the internet. The Manhattan Rare Book Company advertised for sale a first edition Pearl S. Buck “The Good Earth” at a price of $8,000.00!


· Pulitzer Prize for the novel : The Good Earth (1932)

· William Dean Howells Medal (1935)

· Nobel Prize in Literature (1938)

Museums and historic houses

· The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia

· Green Hills Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

· The Zhenjiang Pearl S. Buck Research Association, Zhenjiang, China

· Pearl S. Buck House in Nanjing, China

· The Pearl S. Buck Summer Villa on Lushan Mountain, Jiangxi Province, China

· The Pearl S. Buck Memorial Hall in Bucheon City, South Korea

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"Pearl of China" Video

The Trailer of "The Good Earth"

The Film "The Good Earth"


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    • Good Guy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin Choo 

      6 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi Billie,

      Just "returned" from your profile page. When a person has first-hand contacts with people of different cultures, the person has a wider perspective of life. I live in a very cosmopolitan country and the fact that I am English educated, I have the good fortune to understand and respect human diversities better.

      Thanks for reading and comment.

    • Billie Kelpin profile image

      Billie Kelpin 

      6 years ago from Newport Beach

      Thank you for bringing this amazing woman's work back into the forefront. "The Good Earth" was required reading when I was in high school and I re-read it years later. She is one of my heroines. This is a very lovely and informative hub. I'm so glad you introduced us to Anchee Min's fiction novel, "Pearl of China". I do want to read that. I lived across the street from a Chinese laundry growing up in Milwaukee, WI. My very best friend was Mary Lee. On the top of my computer desk right now is a Chinese teapot Mary bought me when she visited Chinatown in Canada when she was a teenager. That was 56 years ago. I have brought that teapot with me wherever I have lived all this time. I was with Mary on the day she died at 35 years of age. My affinity to the Chinese culture, like Pearl Buck's, is based on my experience with the people.

    • Good Guy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin Choo 

      7 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi ytsenoh ,

      You are welcome. And thanks for reading and comment.

    • ytsenoh profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      My mother read books by Pearl when I was growing up. What an interesting hub. I haven't read "The Good Earth," but should. Pearl definitely lived up to her passions. Thank you for sharing this information about her and her life.

    • Anna Sternfeldt profile image

      Anna Sternfeldt 

      7 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

      I didn't know about this amazing woman, so thanks for the hub! Have voted up and now wanting to read something written by her of course.

    • Good Guy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin Choo 

      7 years ago from Malaysia

      Hi mperrottet,

      Thanks for comment and vote up. I forgot to include the video by Anchee Min on her novel "Pearl of China". The video is now in my article. You may like to watch it now.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 

      7 years ago from San Antonio, FL

      I read "The Good Earth" when I was in my 20's, and loved it. I didn't realize that Pearl Buck had actually lived in China for so many years. What a shame that this wonderful author was ever shunned. Very informative hub - voted up!


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