Pearl Buck in China

I recently finished reading Hilary Spurling’s masterful biography of Pearl Buck, the daughter of American missionaries who grew up in China and became a novelist who introduced many in America to Chinese culture (and won the Nobel Prize for Literature). It was an utterly absorbing read. Among other things it was a sobering reminder of the appalling poverty of pre-revolutionary China, and the extraordinary achievements of the communists in their early days in power – it’s easy to let the horrors of the Anti-Rightist Movement, the post-Great Leap famine and the Culture Revolution obscure this. And the episodes in which Pearl and her family were threatened and turned on by people in a place that felt like home will resonate, at least distantly, with many foreigners who have lived in China. (Peter Hessler, in River Town – another wonderful China book -  described a nasty little event in Fuling, his home for two years, when a crowd turned ugly just because he was a foreigner. And it reminded me of the time I was nearly lynched by a hostile crowd in Chengdu, my beloved Chengdu, just after the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.)

Outside Pearl Buck's house in Zhenjiang

Funnily enough, I visited Pearl Buck’s house in the old vinegar town of Zhenjiang a year or two ago, without really knowing anything about her – the house is now a museum. It’s a colonial-style building on the top of a hill, and surrounded by modern apartment blocks. It was officially closed to the public on the day my friend Gwen and I tried to visit, because it was being used as the location for a Republican-era film. Fortunately the film crew let us have a snoop around, but it was a surreal experience because we kept stumbling across actors in Republican-era costumes (and almost literally stumbling across the power cables trailing all over the floors).

I wasn’t able to work out from Hilary Spurling’s book WHEN exactly Pearl Buck lived there – was it her marital home, or her childhood home with her parents? And is it normally filled with family photographs and objects that relate to her life? (It appeared to have been cleared and rearranged for the film.) If anyone has any information, please leave a comment here!

13 Responses to “Pearl Buck in China”

  1. Lisa

    I’m glad to be reminded about that bio; I’m very eager to read it. I just loved Pearl Buck’s books when I was young, especially Imperial Woman.

    I’m sorry, but I have no info about her home. 🙂

  2. Peter Lau

    You may also want to read Pearl of China by Anchee Min, a fictionalized account of Pearl Buck’s younger years in China. I am just beginning on it. It talks about Pearl’s early years with her missionary parents and a young girl who befriended her.

  3. Tim Merriman

    Zhenjiang was the home Pearl’s missionary parents for many years and they had summer cottage in the mountains nearby at Kuling, now a part of Lushan National Park. I’ve visited her home in Kuling and wish I had visited the home in Zhenjiang. Anchee Min’s book is wonderful in bringing alive the impact Pearl Buck had on China and the world.

    We’ve also been to Chengdu many times on the way to Wolong Panda Reserve. It’s an amazing country with heart-wrenching stories.

  4. Gabriel

    I was just checking out Zhenjiang pics on google image and saw a few pics of familiar places that you posted. I’m so happy to have found your page because along with missing living in Zj, I also really miss the food.
    Pearl lived in that house as a young girl up until 20ish. She went to school nearby at what is now the named the Pearl S Buck middle school. She later taught there as a young adult. I lived at that school during the 03/04 school year teaching English and a class on Pearl Buck. Thanks for the great pics, and I look forward to trying one of your cookbooks.

  5. Fuchsia

    Thanks so much for that information!
    And I’m not surprised you miss the food…

  6. Fuchsia

    Thanks Mike, how interesting!

    I’ll have to go there again sometime and see the exhibition.

  7. Christopher Hatch

    I’m so glad I found your blog. I’m a fan of Pearl Buck’s. You should read her memoir, “My Several Worlds”. This home is not actually the house she grew up in (although it is advertised as such). The house she grew up in was located nearby, but was torn down while Pearl was at college in the U.S. Her parents had this house built and when Pearl returned to Zhenjiang after graduation in 1914, she lived here until her marriage, from 1914 until 1917. She was married in the garden.

    I will be visiting Zhenjiang and I’d like to see the house- is it far from the train station? Can I walk to it? This is something I’m really looking forward to! Thanks for any information and best regards…

  8. Fuchsia

    Hi Christopher
    I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly where the house is, but I think you’ll need to take a taxi from the railway station. My friend and I just had her name in Chinese (赛珍珠 Sai Zhenzhu), and we asked around until a taxi driver knew where her house was! I seem to remember it was about a ten-minute drive from the old part of town.

  9. Christopher Hatch

    Thx for that info- I will have her name on piece of paper (or better yet, in my iPhone) when I go, good idea.

  10. Dave

    Just visited her home. Is within walking distance of the old train station, but there is now a new high speed train station in a different location which is further away. From the old train station (into which we arrived on a high speed train later at night) you turn right onto the street out front next to the KFC and McDonalds. Go down a block or so and will see a sign over the street pointing left down a small side street to Pearl Buck’s home and the Chongsh school. Go down the side street till see another sign for Pearl’s home and the school up high on the left over a small side street. Here it is tricky. The sign points right as you face it. But you do not continue on down the sidestreet you were on. Instead, there is a narrow driveway just inside the second side street on the right angling sharply up the hill. Follow that rising driveway up until you come to the house and school. Will be obvious with signs labeling both. Hope this is helpful. Was really neat to visit it.

  11. David

    Now signposted in Chinese and English off Zhongshan Xi Lu (due north of the new transport centre, combining train and bus stations). Follow sign up Runzhoushan Lu, small market street, for 100m, until you come to another sign for the house and also Chongshi Girl’s School. Unfortunately they’ve got these reversed: follow the school marker, uphill along small leafy lane, and it’s two minutes to Pearl Buck’s house.

    The school looks good too, but it’s fifteen minutes through backlanes atop of another hill, and as signposts evaporate you’ll have to ask directions. It’s closed off behind plate iron gates, but is a large complex in a similar style to the house, and unrestored.

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