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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Pearly Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 16, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents, Southern Presbyterian Missionaries, took her to China when she was only a few months old. As a child, she was cared for by a Chinese nurse and was educated by Mr. Kung, a Chinese tutor. As a result, she learned the Chinese language before she learned English. She also studied Chinese history and became sympathetic to the plight of the peasants in the face Imperialism.
At an early age, Pearl decided she wanted to become a writer. She was a voracious reader, and loved the books and plays written by Shakespeare, Dickens, Eliot, and Twain. She also grew up hearing the Chinese stories told by her nurse and tutor, while her mother told her stories about America. Pearl began to write stories of her own, and with her mother's encouragement and help, she had some of them published in children's publications.
In 1910, Pearl enrolled in Randolph Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She continued to write while in college and won two literary prizes during her senior year. She graduated in 1914. Upon graduation, she intended to stay in the United States, but her mother grew seriously ill, and she returned to China to care for her. During her stay, she met an agricultural economist named John Lossing Buck, who was in China with the Presbyterian Mission Board. They were attracted to one another and married in 1917. Pearl and her new husband lived in a relatively backward area in rural Anhwei province. While living there, Pearl studied the lives of Chinese peasant women and gathered much of the material for her later books, The Good Earth and The Pavilion of Women.
In 1921, Pearl and John moved to Nanking, where John became an agricultural professor at the University. During their first year there, their first child, Carol, was born; she later suffered from mental retardation. The couple then adopted a baby girl, Janice. Later Pearl would adopt six more children. Despite her busy life, Pearl also took a teaching position at the University. The death of her mother in 1921 inspired her to write a short biography; it was Pearl's first book, but it was not published until 1936 under the title of The Exile.
While in Nanking, Pearl began to write more, and her stories and essays were often published in magazines such as "The Nation", "The Chinese Recorder", "Asia", and "Atlantic Monthly". Her first major publication, East Wind, West Wind, was published in 1930 by the John Day Company, whose publisher, Richard Walsh, was later to become her second husband.
John Day published Pearl's next novel, The Good Earth, in 1931; it became a best seller for two consecutive years and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1932, she published Sons, and in 1935, she published A House Divided. This trilogy of books won her the Howells medal in 1935. In 1938, she won the Nobel Prize in Literature, being the first woman to do so.
In 1935, Pearl divorced John Buck and married Richard Walsh, the president of John Day. As a result, she returned to the United States where she took an active interest in American Civil Rights and Womens Rights. She served as a trustee at Howard University for 20 years, beginning in the early 1940's. In 1942, she and her husband founded the East and West Association, dedicated to cultural exchange and understanding between Asia and the Western World. In 1949, she founded 'Welcome House', the first International, Inter-racial adoption agency to assist placement of children of Asian-American blood, especially children of servicemen who had served overseas. Pearl also established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which provides sponsorship funding for thousands of children in several Asian Countries.
Pearl S. Buck died in March 1973 just before her 81st birthday. Before her death in 1973, she had written 70 books including; novels, collections of stories, biographies, an autobiography, poetry collections, plays, translations, and children's literature. Pearl will always be remembered for her wonderful books, for her deep understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture, and for her genuine love and generous help for children, especially those orphaned at an early age.
The Good Earth portrays, in great detail, the Chinese rural life in the early twentieth century. China was facing an internal revolution, which left the farmers in a very desperate situation. While most of them worked hard for rich landowners, the few who had small, independent plots of lands faced opposition not only from the landowners but also from bandits who looted them, and from grain merchants who cheated them.
The novel describes the typical Chinese customs of the time. The male members were the ruling authorities in the household, and the wife's duty was only to perform the household chores and to please the husband. Men were allowed many freedoms; they gathered to play games and sought pleasures from concubines. They were also allowed to purchase wives or lovers.
During the course of the novel, the changing scenario in China is shown. Western influence and the outdated traditions have taken their toll on the youth of China. Education and modern thinking did much to put an end to the old, rigid customs. As a result, revolutionary thoughts began to develop. Pearl S. Buck, because of her stay in China during the 1920's, was able to effectively picture the background of Chinese customs and beliefs in her novel.