Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Bridge across the Pacific

By Kang Liao | Go to book overview

3
A SINGLE-HANDED CRUSADER

The image of the Chinese people in the American mind had been anything but pleasant for almost a century before 1931. The earliest use of the derogatory term "Chinaman" was found in Ralph Waldo Emerson Letters and Social Aims in 1854: "The disgust of California has not been able to drive nor kick the Chinaman back to the home" ( OED). Later the insulting singular form "Chinee" arose in vulgar use also in the United States and was first used in the written form by Bret Harte in his comic ballad, "The Heathen Chinee" in 1871 ( OED). The use of these terms reflected the general attitude of the American people toward the Chinese in the United States as well as the writers' attitudes. Americans' prejudice and hostility against the Chinese were even institutionalized in 1882 when the "Chinese Exclusion Act" was passed. Labor competition was the main reason why Americans disliked the Chinese. Cultural differences and the lack of communication and understanding between the two cultures caused the prejudice. Travelers' tales, popular fiction, and the words of some scholars and men of letters strengthened such dislike and prejudice and created the American image of the Chinese as mean, barbaric, and vicious. Pearl Buck played a singularly important role in promoting Americans' understanding of China and the Chinese. Her works considerably improved the image of the Chinese in the American mind. Consequently, the improvement helped to repeal the "Chinese Exclusion Act" in 1943, to arouse Americans' sympathy for the Chinese who were suffering from Japan's aggression, and to win America's support to China, which had been fighting the Japanese invaders alone for years.

To Americans, China was the ultimate Other. The first thing they learned about China was probably that it would be found at the other side of the globe if one could drill a hole through the earth. Things there seemed to be just opposite as when it is daytime here, it is night there. Their pens were soft but their pillows were hard. Their first names are their family names. The Chinese seemed to do everything the other way around. They shook their own hands

-47-

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Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Bridge across the Pacific
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of World Literature ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - A Paradoxical Enigma 1
  • Notes 15
  • 2 - A Neglected Laureate 17
  • Notes 44
  • 3 - A Single-Handed Crusader 47
  • Notes 82
  • 4 - A Multicultural Mediator 83
  • Notes 118
  • 5 - A Historic Mirror 121
  • Notes 137
  • Index 173
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