"Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members." -- Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (June 26, 1892 ... March 6, 1973) also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu (), was an award-winning American writer who spent most of her time until 1934 in China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."
"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.""A good marriage is one which allows for change and growth in the individuals and in the way they express their love.""A man is educated and turned out to work. But a woman is educated and turned out to grass.""All things are possible until they are proved impossible - and even the impossible may only be so, as of now.""Chinese are wise in comprehending without many words what is inevitable and inescapable and therefore only to be borne.""Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.""Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.""Hunger makes a thief of any man.""I am mentally bifocal.""I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.""I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in the kindness of human beings. I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and angels.""If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.""If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.""In a mood of faith and hope my work goes on. A ream of fresh paper lies on my desk waiting for the next book. I am a writer and I take up my pen to write.""Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that is where I renew my springs that never dry up.""It may be that religion is dead, and if it is, we had better know it and set ourselves to try to discover other sources of moral strength before it is too late.""Let woman out of the home, let man into it, should be the aim of education. The home needs man, and the world outside needs woman.""Life without idealism is empty indeed. We just hope or starve to death.""Like Confucius of old, I am so absorbed in the wonder of the earth and the life upon it, that I cannot think of heaven and the angels.""Love alone could waken love.""Love dies only when growth stops.""Men and women should own the world as a mutual possession.""Men would rather be starving and free than fed in bonds.""None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.""Nothing and no one can destroy the Chinese people. They are relentless survivors.""Nothing in life is as good as the marriage of true minds between man and woman. As good? It is life itself.""One faces the future with one's past.""Order is the shape upon which beauty depends.""Praise out of season, or tactlessly bestowed, can freeze the heart as much as blame.""Race prejudice is not only a shadow over the colored it is a shadow over all of us, and the shadow is darkest over those who feel it least and allow its evil effects to go on.""Self-expression must pass into communication for its fulfillment.""Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together.""The basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between men and women.""The bitterest creature under heaven is the wife who discovers that her husband's bravery is only bravado, that his strength is only a uniform, that his power is but a gun in the hands of a fool.""The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.""The secret of joy in work is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.""The truth is always exciting. Speak it, then. Life is dull without it.""The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible - and achieve it, generation after generation.""To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.""To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.""To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.""Truth is always exciting. Speak it, then; life is dull without it.""We send missionaries to China so the Chinese can get to heaven, but we won't let them into our country.""We should so provide for old age that it may have no urgent wants of this world to absorb it from meditation on the next. It is awful to see the lean hands of dotage making a coffer of the grave.""What is a neglected child? He is a child not planned for, not wanted. Neglect begins, therefore, before he is born.""When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.""When men destroy their old gods they will find new ones to take their place.""You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.""You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings."
Pearl was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia to Caroline Stulting (1857—1921) and Absalom Sydenstricker. Her parents, Southern Presbyterian missionaries, traveled to China soon after their marriage on July 8, 1880, but returned to the United States for Pearl's birth. When Pearl was three months old, the family returned to China to be stationed first in Zhenjiang (then often known as Jingjiang or, in the Postal Romanization, Tsingkiang). Pearl grew up bilingual, tutored in English by her mother and in classical Chinese by Mr. Kung.
The Boxer Uprising greatly affected Pearl and her family. Pearl's Chinese friends deserted her and her family, and Western visitors decreased too.
In 1911, Pearl left China to attend Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia, US, graduating (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1914. From 1914 to 1933, she served as a Presbyterian missionary, but her views later became highly controversial in the Fundamentalist—Modernist Controversy, leading to her resignation.
In 1914, Pearl returned to China. She married an agricultural economist missionary, John Lossing Buck, on May 13, 1917, and they moved to Suzhou, Anhui Province, a small town on the Huai River (not be confused with the better-known Suzhou in Jiangsu Province). It is this region she described later in The Good Earth and Sons.
From 1920 to 1933, Pearl and John made their home in Nanking (Nanjing), on the campus of Nanjing University, where both had teaching positions. Pearl taught English literature at the University of Nanjing and the Chinese National University. In 1920, the Bucks had a daughter, Carol, afflicted with phenylketonuria. In 1921, Pearl's mother died and shortly afterward her father moved in. In 1924, they left China for John's year of sabbatical and returned to the United States for a short time, during which Pearl earned her Masters degree from Cornell University. In 1925, the Bucks adopted Janice (later surnamed Walsh). That fall, they returned to China.
The tragedies and dislocations that Pearl suffered in the 1920s reached a climax in March 1927, during "Nanking Incident". In a confused battle involving elements of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops, Communist forces, and assorted warlords, several Westerners were murdered. Since her father Absalom was a missionary, the family decided to stay in Nanjing until the battle reached the city. When violence broke out, a poor Chinese family allowed them to hide in their hut while the family house was looted. The family spent a day terrified and in hiding, after which they were rescued by American gunboats. They traveled to Shanghai and then sailed to Japan, where they stayed for a year. They later moved back to Nanjing, though conditions remained dangerously unsettled. In 1934, they left China permanently.
In 1935, the Bucks were divorced. Richard Walsh, president of the John Day Company and her publisher, became Pearl Buck's second husband. The couple lived in Pennsylvania.
During the Cultural Revolution Buck, as a preeminent American writer of Chinese peasant life, was denounced as an "American cultural imperialist." Buck was "heartbroken" when Madame Mao and high-level Chinese officials prevented her from visiting China with Richard Nixon in 1972.
Pearl S. Buck died of lung cancer on March 6, 1973 in Danby, Vermont and was interred in Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. She designed her own tombstone. The grave marker is inscribed with Chinese characters representing the name Pearl Sydenstricker.
Buck was highly committed and passionate about a range of issues that were mostly ignored in her generation; many of her life experiences and political views are described in her novels, short stories, fiction, children's stories, and the biographies of her parents entitled Fighting Angel (on Absalom) and The Exile (on Carrie). She wrote on a diverse variety of topics including woman's rights, Asian cultures, immigration, adoption, missionary work, and war.
In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children unadoptable, Pearl established Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. In nearly five decades of work, Welcome House has placed over five thousand children. In 1964, to support children who were not eligible for adoption, Buck established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to "address poverty and discrimination faced by children in Asian countries." In 1965, she opened the Opportunity Center and Orphanage in South Korea, and later offices were opened in Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. When establishing Opportunity House, Buck said, "The purpose... is to publicize and eliminate injustices and prejudices suffered by children, who, because of their birth, are not permitted to enjoy the educational, social, economic and civil privileges normally accorded to children."
In the late 1960s, Pearl toured West Virginia to raise money to preserve her family farm in Hillsboro, WV. Today The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace is a historic house museum and cultural center. She hoped the house would "belong to everyone who cares to go there," and serve as a "gateway to new thoughts and dreams and ways of life."
Long before it was considered fashionable or politically safe to do so, Buck challenged the American public on topics such as racism, sex discrimination and the plight of the thousands of babies born to Asian women left behind and unwanted wherever American soldiers were based in Asia. During her life Buck combined the multiple careers of wife, mother, author, editor and political activist.
Contemporary reviewers were positive, and praised her "beautiful prose," even though her "style is apt to degenerate into overrepetition and confusion."Peter Conn, in his biography of Buck, argues that despite the accolades awarded her, Buck's contribution to literature has been mostly forgotten or deliberately ignored by America's cultural gatekeepers. Kang Liao argues that Buck played a "pioneering role in demythologizing China and the Chinese people in the American mind." Phyllis Bentley, in an overview of her work published in 1935, was altogether impressed: "But we may say at least that for the interest of her chosen material, the sustained high level of her technical skill, and the frequent universality of her conceptions, Mrs. Buck is entitledto take rank as a considerable artist. To read her novels is to gain not merely knowledge of China but wisdom about life."
Anchee Min, author of a fictionalized life of Buck, broke down upon reading Buck, because she had portrayed the Chinese peasants "with such love, affection and humanity"."
Buck was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 5¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
(?????) Pearl's former residence at Nanjing University is now the Nanjing University Science and Technology Industry Group Building along the West Wall of the university's north campus. U.S. President George H.W. Bush toured the Pearl S. Buck House in October 1998. He expressed that he, like millions of other Americans, had gained an appreciation for the Chinese through Pearl's writing.