Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Bridge across the Pacific

By Kang Liao | Go to book overview

customary relationship between the laborers and the landlord? How did the farmers feel about the land they owned? What did they need and desire? How did Confucianism function among the illiterate peasants and farmers? Now that the traditional values have been largely destroyed, and communist ethics have proved inapplicable, what can replace them? Should we have wholesale westernization in China? How can we keep our national identity? What should we inherit from our tradition? To my surprise, Pearl Buck dealt with most of these questions in her works. Although she did not answer them all, her works, as I shall discuss, shed light on these questions.

For the reasons mentioned above, I believe it is necessary and important to conduct more serious studies of Pearl Buck, who had been the singularly significant spokeswoman for China in American literature in the years from 1931 to 1973. The studies will be timely, if not overdue, because China is waking up. Its economy has been developing rapidly in recent years. China has been playing an increasingly important role in the world market and international affairs. The West is having more and more contact with China in politics, the military, trade, science, technology, sports, and culture. The studies of China will therefore inevitably become more and more significant. To study Pearl Buck will help to gain information about China and the part of China that is hardly retrievable anywhere else. To study Pearl Buck will also help in understanding part of America's intercourse with China in the past. These studies will shed some light on today's interaction between the two countries, especially in the cultural respect. These studies will also shed light on the recognition of Western culture and Americans themselves in contrast and comparison with the Chinese culture and Chinese people. Pearl Buck was, after all, a woman of letters, and therefore, no matter how much emphasis I lay on the cognitive value of her works, it is still indispensable to discuss their aesthetic value, on which many elitists have frowned, but some, including Paul A. Doyle and Samuel I. Bellman, have been expecting more serious discussions.5 I shall argue that two of her fiction pieces, The Good Earth and The Mother, and two of her nonfiction, The Exile and Fighting Angel, combine cognitive value and aesthetic value so harmoniously that they will endure the test of time and prove to be classical works that deserve to be added to the multicultural canon of literature.


NOTES
1.
One of the first influential Chinese novels Shui Hu Chuan (100 chapters) was written at the very beginning of the 15th century. A shorter edition of this classic work (seventy chapters) was translated into English for the first time by Pearl Buck and was published under the title All Men Are Brothers in 1933. The complete edition of the novel was translated into English by Sidney Shapiro and published under the title Outlaws of the Marsh in 1988.

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