Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1938

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Pearl Comfort Walsh (Sydenstricker)

Chinese: 賽珍珠
Also Known As: "Sai Zhenzhu", "賽珍珠"
Birthplace: Hillsboro, Pocahontas County, West Virginia, United States
Death: March 06, 1973 (80)
Danby, Rutland County, Vermont, United States (Lung cancer)
Place of Burial: Perkasie, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Absalom Sydenstricker and Caroline Sydenstricker
Wife of Dick Walsh
Ex-wife of Dr John Lossing Buck
Mother of Carol Buck and Private

Occupation: Writer
Managed by: Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1938

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (June 26, 1892 – March 6, 1973) also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu (Chinese: 賽珍珠; pinyin: Sài Zhēnzhū), was an American writer who spent most of her time until 1934 in China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."


Pearl Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia to Caroline Stulting (1857–1921) and Absalom Sydenstricker. Her parents, Southern Presbyterian missionaries, traveled to China soon after their marriage on July 8, 1880, but returned to the United States for Pearl's birth. When Pearl was three months old, the family returned to China to be stationed first in Zhenjiang (then often known as Jingjiang or, in the Postal Romanization, Tsingkiang). Pearl was raised in a bilingual environment, tutored in English by her mother and in classical Chinese by a Mr. Kung. Chinese man in Zhenjiang, c. 1900

The Boxer Uprising greatly affected Pearl and family; their Chinese friends deserted them, and Western visitors decreased.

In 1911, Pearl left China to attend Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia, US, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1914 and a member of Kappa Delta Sorority. From 1914 to 1933, she served as a Presbyterian missionary, but her views later became highly controversial in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy, leading to her resignation.

In 1914, Pearl returned to China. She married an agricultural economist, John Lossing Buck (hereafter in this article Pearl Buck is referred to simply as 'Buck'), on May 13, 1917, and they moved to Suzhou, Anhui Province, a small town on the Huai River (not to be confused with the better-known Suzhou in Jiangsu Province). It is this region she described later in The Good Earth and Sons.

From 1920 to 1933, the Bucks made their home in Nanking (Nanjing), on the campus of Nanjing University, where both had teaching positions. Buck taught English literature at the University of Nanjing and the Chinese National University. In 1920, the Bucks had a daughter, Carol, afflicted with phenylketonuria. In 1921, Buck's mother died and shortly afterward her father moved in. In 1924, they left China for John Buck's year of sabbatical and returned to the United States for a short time, during which (Pearl) Buck earned her Masters degree from Cornell University. In 1925, the Bucks adopted Janice (later surnamed Walsh). That autumn, they returned to China.

The tragedies and dislocations that Buck suffered in the 1920s reached a climax in March 1927, during the "Nanking Incident." In a confused battle involving elements of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops, Communist forces, and assorted warlords, several Westerners were murdered. Since her father Absalom was a missionary, the family decided to stay in Nanjing until the battle reached the city. When violence broke out, a poor Chinese family allowed them to hide in their hut while the family house was looted. The family spent a day terrified and in hiding, after which they were rescued by American gunboats. They traveled to Shanghai and then sailed to Japan, where they stayed for a year. They later moved back to Nanjing, though conditions remained dangerously unsettled. In 1934, they left China permanently.

In 1935 the Bucks were divorced. Richard Walsh, president of the John Day Company and her publisher, became Pearl Buck's second husband. Walsh offered her advice and affection which, her biographer concludes, "helped make Pearl's prodigious activity possible." The couple lived in Pennsylvania until his death in 1960.

During the Cultural Revolution Buck, as a preeminent American writer of Chinese peasant life, was denounced as an "American cultural imperialist." Buck was "heartbroken" when Madame Mao and high-level Chinese officials prevented her from visiting China with Richard Nixon in 1972.

Pearl S. Buck died of lung cancer on March 6, 1973 in Danby, Vermont and was interred in Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. She designed her own tombstone. The grave marker is inscribed with Chinese characters representing the name Pearl Sydenstricker.

Humanitarian efforts

Buck was highly committed and passionate about a range of issues that were largely ignored by her generation; many of her life experiences and political views are described in her novels, short stories, fiction, children's stories, and the biographies of her parents entitled Fighting Angel (on Absalom) and The Exile (on Carrie). She wrote on a diverse variety of topics including woman's rights, Asian cultures, immigration, adoption, missionary work, and war.

In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children unadoptable, Buck established Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. In nearly five decades of work, Welcome House has placed over five thousand children. In 1964, to support children who were not eligible for adoption, Buck established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to "address poverty and discrimination faced by children in Asian countries." In 1965, she opened the Opportunity Center and Orphanage in South Korea, and later offices were opened in Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. When establishing Opportunity House, Buck said, "The purpose... is to publicize and eliminate injustices and prejudices suffered by children, who, because of their birth, are not permitted to enjoy the educational, social, economic and civil privileges normally accorded to children."

In the late 1960s, Buck toured West Virginia to raise money to preserve her family farm in Hillsboro, WV. Today The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace is a historic house museum and cultural center. She hoped the house would "belong to everyone who cares to go there," and serve as a "gateway to new thoughts and dreams and ways of life."

Long before it was considered fashionable or politically safe to do so, Buck challenged the American public on topics such as racism, sex discrimination and the plight of the thousands of babies born to Asian women left behind and unwanted wherever American soldiers were based in Asia. During her life Buck combined the multiple careers of wife, mother, author, editor and political activist.


Contemporary reviewers were positive, and praised her "beautiful prose," even though her "style is apt to degenerate into overrepetition and confusion." Peter Conn, in his biography of Buck, argues that despite the accolades awarded to her, Buck's contribution to literature has been mostly forgotten or deliberately ignored by America's cultural gatekeepers. Kang Liao argues that Buck played a "pioneering role in demythologizing China and the Chinese people in the American mind." Phyllis Bentley, in an overview of her work published in 1935, was altogether impressed: "But we may say at least that for the interest of her chosen material, the sustained high level of her technical skill, and the frequent universality of her conceptions, Mrs. Buck is entitled to take rank as a considerable artist. To read her novels is to gain not merely knowledge of China but wisdom about life."These works aroused considerable popular sympathy for China, and helped foment poor relations with Japan.

Anchee Min, author of a fictionalized life of Pearl Buck, broke down upon reading Buck's work, because she had portrayed the Chinese peasants "with such love, affection and humanity"."

Buck was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 5¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.[citation needed] In 1999 she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.

(賽珍珠故居) Buck's former residence at Nanjing University is now the Nanjing University Science and Technology Industry Group Building along the West Wall of the university's north campus. U.S. President George H.W. Bush toured the Pearl S. Buck House in October 1998. He expressed that he, like millions of other Americans, had gained an appreciation for the Chinese through Buck's writing.

Selected bibliography"


   * My Several Worlds (1954)
   * A Bridge For Passing (1962)


   * The Exile (1936)
   * Fighting Angel (1936)


   * East Wind:West Wind (1930)
   * The House of Earth (1935)
         o The Good Earth (1931)
         o Sons (1933)
         o A House Divided (1935)
   * The Mother (1933)
   * This Proud Heart (1938)
   * The Patriot (1939)
   * Other Gods (1940)
   * China Sky (1941)
   * Dragon Seed (1942)
   * The Promise (1943)
   * China Flight (1943)
   * The Townsman (1945) – as John Sedges
   * Portrait of a Marriage (1945)
   * Pavilion of Women (1946)
   * The Angry Wife (1947) – as John Sedges
   * Peony (1948)
   * The Big Wave (1948)
   * A Long Love (1949) – as John Sedges
   * Kinfolk (1950)
   * God's Men (1951)
   * The Hidden Flower (1952)
   * Come, My Beloved (1953)
   * Voices in the House (1953) – as John Sedges
   * Imperial Woman (1956)
   * Letter from Peking (1957)
   * Command the Morning (1959)
   * Satan Never Sleeps (1962; see 1962 film Satan Never Sleeps)
   * The Living Reed (1963)
   * Death in the Castle (1965)
   * The Time Is Noon (1966)
   * Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (1967)
   * The New Year (1968)
   * The Three Daughters of Madame Liang (1969)
   * Mandala (1970)
   * The Goddess Abides (1972)
   * All Under Heaven (1973)
   * The Rainbow (1974)


   * Of Men and Women (1941)
   * How It Happens: Talk about the German People, 1914–1933, with Erna von Pustau (1947)
   * The Child Who Never Grew (1950)
   * The Man Who Changed China: The Story of Sun Yat-sen (1953) for young readers
   * My Several Worlds (1954)
   * For Spacious Skies (1966)
   * The People of Japan (1966)
   * The Kennedy Women (1970)
   * China as I See It (1970)
   * The Story Bible (1971)
   * Pearl S. Buck's Oriental Cookbook (1972)

Long and Short Stories

   * The First Wife and Other Stories (1933)
   * Today and Forever: Stories of China (1941)
   * Twenty-Seven Stories (1943)
   * Far and Near: Stories of Japan, China, and America (1949)
   * Fourteen Stories (1961)
   * Hearts Come Home and Other Stories (1962)
   * Stories of China (1964)
   * Escape at Midnight and Other Stories (1964)
   * The Good Deed and Other Stories of Asia, Past and Present (1969)
   * Once Upon a Christmas (1972)
   * East and West Stories (1975)
   * Secrets of the Heart: Stories (1976)
   * The Lovers and Other Stories (1977)
   * Mrs. Stoner and the Sea and Other Stories (1978)
   * The Woman Who Was Changed and Other Stories (1979)
   * The Good Deed (1969)
   * "Christmas Day in the Morning"
   * "The Refugee"
   * "The Chinese Children Next Door" (for children)
   * ″The Enemy"
   * "The Frill"
   * "The Golden Flower"


   * Pulitzer Prize for the Novel: The Good Earth (1932)
   * William Dean Howells Medal (1935)
   * Nobel Prize in Literature (1938)
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Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1938's Timeline

June 26, 1892
Hillsboro, Pocahontas County, West Virginia, United States
March 6, 1973
Age 80
Danby, Rutland County, Vermont, United States
March 6, 1973
Age 80
Green Hills Farm, Perkasie, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States