A ‘Chinese-Opera’ tragedy – the life of Pearl S Buck | Sunday Observer

A ‘Chinese-Opera’ tragedy – the life of Pearl S Buck

In past weeks we looked at two giants among American short -story writing, O Henry and Mark Twain. They are perhaps overshadowed by the sensitive and poignant short stories of a woman, Pearl S Buck, who wrote with sensitivity and sympathy, about the people of China. Both her parents were Christian (Presbyterian) missionaries working in China, and her Christian Principles shine through in her life, her outlook, and all her writings.

She was bilingual in Chinese and English.

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck’s parents migrated to China when she was five months. At 19, she went back to the USA where she graduated from College - “Phi Beta Kappa”- (a highly prestigious honour for American College graduates). She married at age 25, and had a daughter (Carol) who had serious health problems. But, for various reasons, she divorced after returning to the USA, and on the very same day of her divorce, married her publisher.

A controversial person and a maverick, she held views that very few people in the United States held, at the time. Buck was ahead of her time, controversial in both China and the USA, and a fighter for a range of topics that are prominent TODAY - Migration, adoption of foreign children , women’s rights, the Atom bomb, Asian culture, and war, being but a few of them.

“Long before it was considered fashionable or politically safe to do so, Buck challenged the American public by raising consciousness on topics such as racism, sex discrimination and the plight of Asian war children.

In the USA, Pearl S Buck delivered a lecture to a learned audience, on the subject- “Is there a case for the Foreign Missionary?”, and her answer was, No - While she welcomed the Chinese people to share her Christian faith, she argued that “China did not need an institutional church dominated by missionaries who were too often ignorant of China and arrogant in their attempts to control it”. (Wikipedia). That was the end of her good relationship with the Presbyterian Church.

Buck was also an anti- communist, and in a novel, Satan never sleeps she denounced what she felt was “Communist tyranny” . After the Cultural Revolution when the Communist Party came to power, she was banned from entering her beloved China, for the rest of her life. But such was her emotional attachment to China, that when she died, her gravestone was engraved with Chinese, (not English) , characters .

In 1931 and 1932, her classic novel - The Good Earth became the best -selling book in the USA, and won the Pulitzer Prize. She also became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This novel begins on the night of a young Chinese peasant man’s marriage, and goes on to describe how he rises in wealth and stature, going from rags to riches , eventually buying his landlord’s property. With his rise, he takes a mistress, as is the custom, and mistreats his poor but devoted peasant wife. But they have a mentally retarded daughter, whom he loves with all his heart. To find out more, read the books!

Pearl Buck’s Charitable Foundation opened offices in Korea, Thailand, The Phillipines and Viet Nam - had she been alive today, she would undoubtedly have supported the plight of war affected Women and Children in Sri Lanka.