As a young girl growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution, Anchee Min was taught to write statements proclaiming the glory of Chairman Mao almost before she learned to write her own name. She was also told to denounce Nobel-winning author Pearl S. Buck as an “American cultural imperialist,” for her depictions of peasant life in China. Min had never actually read a word that Buck had written, but she didn’t have a real choice – she dutifully mouthed the denouncement.
It was 25 years later that Min, now a successful author herself, was handed a copy of Buck’s The Good Earth while on a book tour in Chicago. “A lady came up to me,” Min recounted in a radio interview. “She said ‘I just want to let you know that Pearl Buck taught me to love Chinese people and here is her book as a gift.” This was a startling revelation to the woman who’d been indoctrinated to think of Buck as negative and condescending in her writings about China. Min began reading The Good Earth immediately and as she finished it on her flight home, she broke down in tears. “I embarrassed myself because I was sobbing,” she said. “I couldn’t help it. [She] wrote about our peasants with such admiration, affection and humanity.”
That moment led to Anchee Min’s decision to write her novel, Pearl of China, which is based on Buck’s life growing up in China as the child of American missionaries. Immersed in everyday life in China and fluent in the language, Pearl Buck experienced some culture shock when she returned to the U.S. in 1910 to attend Randolph Macon Women’s College – now Randolph College – in Lynchburg, VA. This was the beginning of her realization that she truly had a foot in two very different worlds and she would spend the rest of her life trying to reconcile those worlds, both in her career as a prolific author and as a humanitarian and activist.
Pearl Buck graduated from Randolph in 1914 and, to inaugurate a series of events marking the centennial of that occasion, the college has invited Anchee Min to speak about the woman she was once forced to denounce. And Min, a writer who also has a foot in both worlds feels a special connection to her subject. “Pearl Buck and I have a long history together,” she says.
Anchee Min will speak on Nov. 12, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. Wimberly Recital Hall, Presser Hall, Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA. The event is free and open to the public.
Suzanne Freeman, Fiction EditorShare this post with your friends.