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

6
Pearl S. Buck's Reception in China Reconsidered

Liu Haiping

Pearl S. Buck entitled her first novel East Wind: West Wind and her last one All under Heaven. The former title, representing an image of contrary tendencies, alludes to The Dream of the Red Chamber. The latter derives from a Confucian maxim: "Under heaven all are one."1 These two titles not only demonstrate her familiarity with Chinese literature, but also summarize much of her world view and outlook on life. They also underscore, however, several of the ironies of her own life.

Born the daughter of missionaries from the United States who spent most of their lives in China, Buck grew up on intimate terms with two worlds. She recalled in My Several Worlds:

I grew up in a double world, the small white clean Presbyterian American world of my parents and the big loving merry not-too-clean Chinese world, and there was no communication between them. When I was in the Chinese world I was Chinese, I spoke Chinese, and behaved as a Chinese and ate as the Chinese did, and I shared their thoughts and feelings. When I was in the American world, I shut the door between. 2

She "shut the door between" because she did not want to see her two worlds come to blows. Her years in China accustomed her to viewing situations from multiple standpoints. The cross-cultural perspective made her at once an insider and an outsider, and brought the rare combination of emotional attachment and rational distance to her observations.

With all sincerity Buck once said to a friend: "It would be hard for me to declare which side of the world is most my own. . . . I am loyal to Asia as I am loyal to my own land."3 Her dual identity, however, brought her anguish as

-55-

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