Like thousands of other Americans, my first introduction to China was through reading Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. Of course, when I read it in school, I never imagined that China would one day become such a big part of my life.
Buck left China with great reluctance. China had been her home. Fluent in both spoken and written Chinese, she had developed a deep affection for the country and its people, and had accumulated scores of friends. When she sailed from Shanghai in 1934, Buck took it for granted that she would be able to come back to visit the people and places she was leaving behind.History had other plans. Instead of bringing peace to China, Japan’s defeat in 1945 ignited four years of civil war between Nationalists and Communists. The Communist victory in October 1949 provoked a bitter response from the United States government, which refused to recognize Mao’s regime and banned all travel between the two countries. For more than two decades, neither Pearl Buck nor any other non-governmental U.S. citizen could legally set foot in China.
After Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 and the rapprochement between the US and China, she applied for a visa to return to her childhood home. Unfortunately, the request was denied.
The seventy-nine-year-old Pearl Buck, who had frequently told friends that she remained “homesick” for China, saw a last opportunity to return to the country in which she had spent more than half her life. She applied for a visa, sent telegrams to Zhou Enlai and other Chinese leaders, and hectored White House staff for presidential support. In May of 1972, after months of silence, a low-level Chinese bureaucrat stationed in Canada sent this refusal: since “you have in your works taken an attitude of distortion, smear and vilification towards the people of new China and its leaders, I am authorized to inform you that we cannot accept your request for a visit to China.”
The remainder of the article is about the shift in attitudes towards Buck by Chinese officials. Forty years after that abrupt, and shall we say nasty denial, China’s attitude towards Pearl Buck has softened:
Finally, in May of this year, Pearl Buck was more or less rehabilitated. The faculty of Nanjing University gained approval and raised funds for the restoration of the campus house in which Buck had lived. Supervised by distinguished architects and historians, the renovations have been meticulously carried out.
The entire article is definitely worth reading because it offers an interesting glimpse of modern China’s complicated relationship with its past and the foreigners in its past.
And by the way, my favorite book by Pearl Buck is Pavilion of Women.
Leave a comment and tell me what your favorite is.