Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pearl S. Buck: History and Influence

"Press steadily for human equality, not only for yourselves, but for all those groups who are not given equality."

"History ... has always been taught as the work of man. When woman appears in it she is either a queen, of little practical use, or a rebel smashing up furniture or praying in saloons. The truth has never been told about women in history: that everywhere man has gone woman has gone too, and what he has done she has done also. Women are ignorant of their own past and ignorant of their own importance in that past. In curiosity a few months ago I asked a haphazard score of women of my acquaintance if they had heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Only one had even heard her name, and she had no recollection of more. Yet only a generation ago Elizabeth Cady Stanton was called the greatest woman in the United States, and by some the greatest in the world. If women are as ignorant as this of themselves they can scarcely expect men to know more. But if the aim of education is to be enlightening of men and women about each other, of course history must be taught truthfully about both, and truthfully rewritten." 
Today is Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker's birthday.  In her lifetime, she came to be known as Sai Zhenzhu (賽珍珠, or Sài Zhēnzhū), as author John Sedges, and as prolific and renowned author and speaker Pearl S. Buck.  I don't know how many of her works you've read.  Her most famous, of course, is The Good Earth, a good place to start if you're interested in a Pulitzer-prize winning novel of people who are likely very, very different from you and from me, and yet they are people at heart just like you and me.  One of my own affinities with Pearl S. Buck is that she is a missionary kid who grew up bilingual and bicultural.  "I am mentally bifocal," she once said about herself.  My Several Worlds and A Bridge For Passing are her telling titles for her two autobiographies.  The ways she saw and lived in her several worlds and constructed a bridge for passing across into your world and mine are very helpful ways of seeing and of being, I believe.  She wasn't just a speaker, a writer, a thinker, but she was also a doer, a changer, a transformer.  Here's a bit more of what others are remembering of her, especially today.


CD-Host said...

She definitely was interesting. I have a post where I talk a lot about her battles with Machen and link to stuff like the Hocking's report which played such an important role in her life.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks very much for the link to your history of Ms. Buck and Mr. Machen. You may say the following too sharply, nonetheless:

Buck was completely at variance with the stated policy of the missions board: she denied core Presbyterian doctrines like salvation by faith alone and the virgin birth, “To some of us He is still the divine Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. But to many of us He has ceased to be that.”

Doesn't she allow for "some ... still"? Didn't she resign because she felt she was a "nuisance" to the Board?

("Am I still a Presbyterian? Surely--oh well, I don't think that's very important. I don't go in for creeds and that sort of thing so very much. I'm just a Christian."

"Above all, then, let the spirit of Christ be manifested by mode of life rather than by preaching. I am wearied unto death with this preaching. It deadens all thought, confuses all issues, it is producing in China at least, a horde of hypocrites, and in the theological seminaries a body of Chinese ministers which makes one despair for the future, because they are learning to preach about Christianity rather than how to live the Christian life.")

CD-Host said...

JK --

Didn't she resign because she felt she was a "nuisance" to the Board?

People's official reasons in their resignation "to spend more time with my family" don't mean much its more the context. That's why in the article you cited so many were saying the board shouldn't accept her resignation. My read at the time was that Speer pushed her out. This is the sort of thing that we never know for sure. But IMHO had Buck resigned of her own free will you wouldn't have had broad anger directed at Speer about it. The fact it was directed at Speer and not Machen says something important about where things were headed for Buck.

Anyway we are reading the same primary sources. I link to a bunch at the end of my article.

As for the denied part, I'll go with the quote from the article, “To some of us He is still the divine Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. But to many of us He has ceased to be that.”

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, CD-Host. It's very good that you've remembered and have written to help us all remember! Of course there's always back stories, things behind the scenes. And it's great that you're "go[ing] with the quote from the article." All I wish to have emphasized is that there may be more to the story than we now can see; and also that Ms. Buck was open, having her own opinion clear, was very open to and tolerant of and understanding about others' opinions which which she didn't necessarily agree. She saw many sides to any issue, and only remained open. I like that!