The Several Worlds of Pearl S. Buck: Essays Presented at a Centennial Symposium, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, March 26-28, 1992

By Elizabeth J. Lipscomb; Frances E. Webb et al. | Go to book overview

3
The Good Earth, Revolution, and the American Raj in China

Charles W. Hayford

Like the British in India, though on a smaller and shallower scale, Americans in China formed a Raj. Diplomats, traders, and missionaries made an informal, largely cultural, set of loosely related institutions, not organized by the American government (though sometimes looking to it for rescue or support), and financed either by private enterprises or by voluntary contributions. By the 1920s it stretched back several generations and provided a context in which each of its members worked, whether they resisted, ignored, or advanced it. 1 This Open Door Raj provided most of the solid information on China for the popular audience at home. Important and influential books, including S. Wells Williams The Middle Kingdom ( 1848; 1883), Arthur Smith Chinese Characteristics ( 1890), and The Good Earth ( 1931), were written on Chinese soil and intended for the broad middle-class audience of cultured readers and policymakers at home. These China authors never lost sight of America's power to affect their China, whether as protector, military aggressor, cultural imperialist, benefactor, or partner. They fretted about how to form and influence opinion back home. But their ideas often differed from those domestic supporters; even when they had come "to change China," as Jonathan Spence has so nicely put it, they were more often changed than changing. In addition, they all--Chinese, China residents, and stay-at- homes--took part in a multigenerational debate over the nature of China and Chinese culture in the modern world. Pearl S. Buck and her book The Good Earth were central in this debate, and have to be seen in its context.


China Reconstrued--From Orientalism to Progressivism

In the nineteenth century, China was widely seen as the opposite of everything European and modern, but in its own unique, autonomous way

-19-

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