Born in West Virginia, Pearl Buck (1892-1973) spent most of her childhood in Zhejiang, where her parents were missionaries. As a result, Buck was tutored by a Confucian scholar and spoke Chinese before she spoke English. She later returned to the US to attend college. After graduation Buck returned to China and married John Lossing Buck, a missionary. She spent almost half of her life in China, only moving back to the US in 1935.
Why is she famous?
The 1931 publication of her novel The Good Earth caused a sensation. The book, which tells the story of two downtrodden peasants Wang Lung and O-Lan, transformed Buck’s life and Americans’ perception of China, which, until then, was largely unknown to readers. It also won Buck numerous awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature (she was the first American woman to win the award).
But not everyone was a fan. Mao Zedong thought Buck’s works were anachronisms, exposing too much of China’s feudal past. Her books were banned and Buck was denounced as a proponent of American cultural imperialism. In 1972 Premier Zhou Enlai personally refused her a visa to visit the country.
Why is she in the news now?
Buck’s latest biography, Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck’s Life in China, written by Hilary Spurling, has been published, promising further insight into Buck’s unusual life. The Guardian writes: “Hilary Spurling has written an elegant and sympathetic portrait of one of the most extraordinary Americans of the 20th century.”
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