Subscribe by Email

Inside the Middle Kingdom

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Will the "real" China please come forward?



A nice evening in downtown Nanjing
Recent moments and conversations have made me question whether my Chinese experience has been complete. Nanjing, the city where I reside, is essentially a globalized metropolis with most of the comforts and conveniences of back home complete with Subway Sandwich shops, grocery stores where I can buy Starbucks ice cream, and a new fancy French style bakery chain selling bagels right in my neighborhood. Admittedly, I have fallen prey to these new ventures and as a result am apt to forget on some days that I even live in China. Also becoming more prevalent in Nanjing as well as other wealthy Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are the shocking and ostentatious displays of wealth. It hit me hard in February after returning from a vacation in the third world surroundings of Laos to the glitzy streets of these Chinese cities where fancy BMW convertibles and Hummers roar by at high speeds. Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Coach stores take up entire city blocks while beautifully dressed women hurry by in their Manolo Blahnik heels chatting on their iPhone 5s. 

Hustle and bustle in front of one of the Apple stores in Shanghai

Our local Louis Vuitton store in Nanjing
I think before and even after living for some time in China, I have had a romantic notion in my head of how China should really be. Somehow, a China developing at breakneck speed with its people fully embracing and emulating trends and lifestyles of the West, is not how I imagined it. Now that I have been entrenched in this modern, affluent side of China, I at times overlook that there is another, very different China out there that I have witnessed only briefly on previous trips but have mostly been missing. So when my friend Cyrus asked if I would like to travel to Guizhou, a far away, poor province in Southern China that I had never even heard of, to visit a new women’s hospital, I accepted.  I hoped that the trip would be an adventure (it was), would be a crash immersion session in Chinese (it was), and that I would see a unique part of China vastly different from my wealthy corner of Nanjing (I did).

A rural town in Guizhou Province
An isolated province tucked in south central China, Guizhou is rich in natural resources. Where we traveled in the western part of the province, karst mountains and jagged formations made up the surrounding landscape both in the cities and the countryside. The mountains provided a beautiful backdrop until seeing them being excavated for coal mining or the building of new city developments. Thanks to its coal supply, Guizhou also exports electricity to richer nearby provinces such as Guandong, home province of wealthy, booming cities Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Indeed, Guizhou is quite poor and underdeveloped in contrast to Chinese provinces on the East coast and those provinces to which it supplies energy.  

The view of Liupanshui
Our trip to Guizhou brought us to Liupanshui, a secluded city 270 km from the nearest airport in Guiyang, Guizhou. Looking out to a hazy, smoggy sky from my hotel room, I took in the surrounding view of the city. Only built in 1978, the city’s skyline donned ugly, drab, plain looking buildings on my left view and half demolished buildings and rubble amidst semi-quarried hills on the right. On the streets, dirty children ran loose and had the large dirt piles and rubble as their playgrounds. Yet, integrated among these third world living conditions were also the occasional marks of progress and indications of the city trying to slowly fight its way into a higher economic niveau. Newly paved sidewalks were lined with freshly planted shrubs and baby trees to provide a more pleasant, residential feel. Classy, apartment buildings with balconies and manicured gardened courtyards surrounded the women’s hospital we attended. The hospital itself had state of the art surgery wards equipped with the latest technologies. 

Also, in contrast to Nanjing and other more developed and wealthier Chinese cities, there were refreshingly very little outside commercial interests and influences in Liupanshui- thanks probably to the fact that it is so secluded. Where were the large, garish shopping malls? The Starbucks, McDonalds and fancy English language schools called Baby MBA that will promise to get your 4 year old into Harvard? The billboards advertising the perfect diamond engagement ring? All of these signs of modernity and “progress” seemed to be missing from the streets of Liupanshui. Perhaps in due time those type of places will slowly start to creep into Liupanshui as well. Cyrus spotted a KFC and we noticed a few people with iPhone 5s- both telltale signs that changes are indeed a coming. But for now, Liupanshui seems relatively untouched by large, outside, foreign influences. 

But with all of its apparent steps in progress and its slow acquisition of new riches, who in Liupanshui and the surrounding Guizhou countryside will be able to benefit from them? Will the average Jane or Joe be able to afford the top medical services provided at the women’s hospital we visited? Cyrus offered that many families, including poorer ones, will toil, work hard and save for years so that their expectant mothers can have the best care for when their one child, therefore their sole future hope, is born. Even well into the countryside, miles away from Liupanshui, we saw road signs and posters for the hospital, indicating that it was indeed trying to cater to the poorer rural folks. 

In spite of people perhaps saving for their offspring’s future, it seems it may be difficult for many residents in rural Guizhou and even in urban Guizhou settings to afford decent medical care, education, housing and transportation. Data reveals how hard it might be for many Guizhou residents to make ends meet compared to their counterparts in wealthier, urban, developed provinces in China. In 2011, for example, Guizhou ranked LAST in China for its per capita GDP of 10,258 RMB (1,502 USD). Comparatively, in Jiangsu Province, the province in China with the highest per capita GDP and where I live, the per capita GDP was 52,448 yuan (US$7,945). 

Sunday market day
Data aside, scenes driving through the countryside on the 270 km stretch between Liupanshui and Guiyang also exposed a whole other China where people still live simpler lives, living off the land and its resources. Caught in the early afternoon traffic of Sunday market day, we witnessed farmers selling their own produce on the street; middle-aged sun-wrinkled men herding fat pink pigs into a truck to be taken to market; freshly killed meat being sold by the butcher on the side of the road; and even large chunks of Guizhou coal being sold in a family’s store front. Transformed to Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, I witnessed in the far off distance farmers plowing with oxen in their fields. Family grave plots on the hills next to the highway revealed communities who found their homes on the same land of their ancestors several generations back. These communities have clung to and carried on the long standing traditions and methods of livelihood of their ancestors.


Got coal?
 Returning from my weekend trip to Guizhou to the modern comforts of my home in Nanjing, I congratulated myself for finally witnessing the “real” China. But what an unfair judgement to bestow on either Guizhou or Nanjing! While it’s true I briefly witnessed firsthand the gap in income and lifestyles between rural and urban Chinese communities; wealthy east Coast provinces and an isolated, poor, undeveloped province, this does not mean that either side represents the “real” China. In order to fully understand the “real” China today, I’ve learned that it encompasses all of these sides- rich and poor; glitzy and rugged; urban and rural; developed too quickly and left behind in the dust of 100 hundred years ago. I have tasted both and found desirable aspects of both.  The real challenge lies ahead for China and how it can continue to build its economy so that more people can reap its rewards; how it can develop and progress without depleting its resources and without destroying its rural landscapes as well as the livelihood and age old traditions of its inhabitants.

Two contrasting images of vehicles. Two very different faces of China.

For related reading:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Buses, sawng thaews, and tuk tuks

A guide to public transport in Laos

In Laos, the land of tranquil scenes along the Mekong River, ancient Buddhist and Hindu ruins, fragrant frangipani, and friendly children waving and calling out “Sabaidee!” (“Hello” in local lingo), transport and travel can be an eye-opening and adventurous cultural experience in itself. It can come in several different forms of both land and water vessels including buses;  sawng theaws, pick-up trucks with seats fitted along the length of the truck beds that travel to nearby regional locations (and usually managed by a family); tuk tuks or jumbos with seats fitted around a motorcycle frame and for local destinations in a city; motorcycles; bicycles; and your own two legs.

With two and a half weeks to explore Laos, my partner Nick and I started off from Laos’s capitol city, Vientiane and then headed south. We decided to break the trip up into several increments, limiting bus travel to no more than four hours a day. Even then, some trips ended up being six to eight hours. We learned that this is a normal occurrence in Laos as travel happens on “Lao time”. The three best things to bring along on such a journey are bottled water, toilet paper and patience.

Buses can come in both the VIP form and the “public” bus form. I suppose the VIP buses in Laos evolved for the mostly foreign tourists who may not desire to be squeezed into tight, hot, un-air-conditioned spaces for hours on end. If I’m not mistaken, we were primarily on the non-VIP form which definitely added some color to our travels. Settling into our seats, sometimes next to each other and sometimes apart depending on seat availability, the bus’s TV screen then flashed and blared out the trip’s on-board entertainment of Lao and Thai music videos and variety shows as well as 1920’s Charlie Chaplin films (who seems to be all the rage in Laos, even 90 years later!). Our fellow travel companions on the bus journeys are some other foreign travelers but mostly Laotians- young families traveling with their little ones; single men traveling from one work site to another; mothers or grandmothers traveling with a child; as well as the occasional Buddhist monk. I was bemused by the attire of most of the local travelers- long jeans or woven sarongs covering the legs and even thick faux leather jackets. This is clothing I would find entirely hot and uncomfortable for a cramped bus with no air-conditioning. Nevertheless, such attire may likely be dictated by conservative and traditional Buddhist culture.  



Upon departure, a bus typically coasts slowly out of a town, honking its horn to draw attention from additional prospective passengers from the side of the road. More and more passengers file on, occupying all remaining seats. The bus attendant, usually a boy of about 12 or 13, directs newly arrived passengers to sit on make-shift seats of plastic stools in the aisle. Certain etiquette seems to rule seating arrangements among Laotian travelers. During one of our bus journeys, a monk hopped on board an already full bus. What then ensued was something like a game of musical chairs- seat reshuffling and rearrangements until the monk had a seat and a displaced young man found himself downgraded to a plastic seat in the aisle. Similar arrangements were made for a grandmother and a young girl who boarded at the side of the road from a rural village.
Passengers filling up the aisle on plastic stools.
During the course of a bus journey, a bus may make several pit stops for food and calls of nature.  Sometimes the buses stop at small roadside restaurants with basic toilets in the back. I was impressed with the total cleanliness of the toilets which are basic porcelain squat toilets enclosed in tin shacks and supplied with a bucket full of water with a pail which one then uses to rinse out the toilet following its use. Other rest stops are sometimes just fields along the side of the road. We women folk have to walk back out of view and behind some trees or brush. The long, woven sarong skirt that many a Laotian woman wears typically goes to her ankles and is a practical and useful cover for roadside calls of nature if she can’t find shelter behind a tree or bush. Pit stops are short and brief and anyone hoping to finish a cigarette will find a horn blasting in his ears to beckon him back on or be left behind.

Roadside pit stop
Some dusty road stops will find female vendors rushing out of the woodwork to swarm onto and next to the bus to sell snacks and drinks to the peckish and thirsty travelers. Depending on the region, they might sell bottled water, sliced mango, barbequed and skewered chicken, cooked eggs on a stick, or dried fish. They all seem to be chanting the same thing as they clamor to get the attention of prospective customers. They too sometimes get shooed off the bus as the irritable driver begins to push off and the vendors are left in the dust chasing after the embarking bus. 
Roadside vendors


Many Laotians rely on the use of buses and sawng thaews for transporting not only themselves but also for transporting goods and necessities for their homes and businesses. All buses and sawng thaews are rigged with large racks on top for transporting suitcases, large sacks of rice and animal feed, washing machines, bicycles and even motor cycles.  At one stop along the side of the road, two of the bus attendants seemed to effortlessly heave a motorcycle to the top of the bus for further transport. 

A shadow of a motorcycle being lifted onto the rooftop of the bus.
How can you tell?

It’s an unwritten code that some transport vehicles, especially sawng thaews,  may leave when they’re sufficiently packed and are only there to help you and your goods get from point A to point B. Comfort is not a priority but this doesn’t seem to be an issue for many locals. On one of our short sawng thaew journeys, we crammed into the back with twenty rice sacks covering the floor and the other passengers complacently squeezing their way around the traveling goods. Before the start of the journey, I exclaimed to Nick, “Cool, this will be a fun adventure!”  Twenty minutes later sitting in the idle vessel, in the hot, dusty parking lot of the market station (and waiting for what?), I was already whinging. Meanwhile, squeezing and packing into tight, cramped and stuffy vehicles seemed to be an art form for the local travelers sharing the ride. Looking up at the back of the t-shirt of the boy sitting on the rice sack in front of me, I had to chuckle to myself as I read the strange albeit fitting English expression that was thrown together on his t-shirt. It read,  “Y’all ain’t from round here..is Yall?” 
Trying to get comfortable in my travel surroundings.

Crammed into a sawng thaew.
Our travel in Laos also included some river crossings across the Nam Ngum (a tributary of the Mekong) and the infamous Mekong itself. One of the crossings across the Mekong found us on a cramped minibus. We watched with a little dismay as our bus eased onto what seemed like an already overloaded and overburdened, worn plywood ferry boat. Sitting in the back of the bus behind other passengers occupying foldout chairs, we eyed the width of the back window we were sitting next to and made escape plans in our head if the boat should either sink or our minibus should roll off the back into the depths of the Mekong. As visions came into my head of my mother reading two days later a small excerpt on the side of page 11 in her local morning paper, “Small Ferry Craft in Laos Sinks”, I quickly realized that I was of course exaggerating the precariousness of the five minute ferry crossing in my head. We safely made it across and were in good hands all along. Such occurrences are helping me be not only more patient but are also helping me learn not to press the panic button so early, as I often do.
Crossing the Mekong.
What was more significant during these various trips in Laos? The trips themselves or the destinations the different vessels brought us to?  I would say they were on par. Traveling by bus, sawng thaew, and a wobbly ferry may not be for everyone but I think my trip to Laos and the glimpse I got into the world down there would not have been complete without these experiences. 

For further reading:
During our trip we ran into a young woman from Canada who is traveling through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam by bicycle! I was really inspired and impressed with her unique journey and how her transportation mode is taking her way off the beaten track. Read and see for yourself about her journey!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Who was Pearl Buck? Finding the American author’s home and legacy in China

For almost 25 years I have been captivated by the work and life of Pearl Sydenstricker Buck. Pearl Buck was an American author who spent the first forty years of her life in China. Her experiences and insight into China came alive in her many novels and stories, the most famous being The Good Earth which was published in 1931. Her stories, novels and personal experiences have arguably played a huge role in the outside world’s understanding of China. Although it’s been nearly forty years since she passed away, her stories continue to move people and bridge positive relationships between China and the West.

Pearl S. Buck

The daughter of a Presbyterian missionary born in 1892, Pearl not only grew up and lived in China but knew the country intimately, inside and out. Because of her father’s missionary work, the Sydenstrickers were quite isolated and lived primarily only among local Chinese people rather than in a segregated world among other foreigners. Indeed, Chinese and English were both her first languages and she learned the ways of the people around her.  China was her home. 

China being her foster country, she had a unique perspective of it that only few other foreigners could intimately understand. To say the least, her relationship with China was always tumultuous because of the many changes and growing pains that China experienced within her lifetime. In 1900 at the age of eight, her family made a near escape from her hometown of Zhenjiang to Shanghai during the Boxer Rebellion when angry boxers and the Empress Dowager Cixi declared war and death to foreigners across the country to put an end to foreign and imperialist influences in China. Again in 1927, her family barely escaped out alive from Nanjing when Nationalist troops, Communist forces and warlords turned on foreigners residing there. Hiding with a poor Chinese family who risked their own life harboring the fugitives, the Buck’s home was looted and the family escaped at the last possible moment when an American warship came to rescue remaining trapped residents in the city under siege.  When Pearl Buck finally left China in 1934, perhaps she didn’t realize that she would never return to China ever again. Political unrest and strife between Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist troops and Communist factions plagued the country along with Japan’s invasion of China and the Second World War, likely making a return to China near impossible. The establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 effectively closed off China to the outside world for more than twenty years. At the height of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that reigned in Marxist reform throughout China, Pearl Buck and her writing were denounced as imperialist by ideologues and school children across the country. Hoping to travel to China with American President Richard Nixon in 1972 when relations between China and the US began to warm, it is said that Pearl Buck’s request for a visa was personally denied by Madame Mao who hoped to succeed her husband politically. Said to be heartbroken, Pearl Buck never again returned to her home in China. She died the following year in 1973.

In the nearly forty years since the fateful decision that prevented Pearl Buck from returning to her home in China, her reputation as a friend and advocate of China has been restored. Her more famous works are available in both Chinese and English and American and Chinese organizations work together to honor her life in both her home and adopted countries. Recently I had the opportunity to witness this cross-cultural collaboration to memorialize her life and accomplishments both in the US and in China.

In search of Pearl
I first encountered Pearl Buck when I was in the 8th grade and read a copy of The Good Earth ( I will henceforth refer to Pearl Buck simply as Pearl as I feel as if I am writing about an old friend). Never a very avid reader, I remember being completely hooked from the beginning of the story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese farmer who awakens with excitement on the day he’s going to meet and marry his bride Olan who is a servant slave girl at the estate of the wealthy family of the village. The ups and downs their family endures through famine, revolutions, family fortunes and misfortunes unexpectedly enchanted the 14 year old reader in me who never personally knew such tragedy or hardship. Pearl had so beautifully crafted the story so that I felt I personally was witnessing the trials and tribulations of the couple. Yet she wrote the story in simple enough language so that I never felt like the book was unattainable or for more educated and well-read minds than my own. After first reading The Good Earth, I slowly found a new appreciation of books and literature and people’s life experiences through the written word.  Time and time again and through the years, I would come back and reread The Good Earth- as a young adult and again when I moved to China two years ago. Each time I would pick it up, I knew what I was getting myself into and that I was reading the story to know my emotions were in check. I knew I was reading it so I could cry and feel the sadness at certain points in the saga. Yet still I would catch myself unexpectedly, uncontrollably and shamefully sobbing while reading it at certain parts. Each time I have read it, I have gained new and unique perspectives based on my own experiences in my life at that given time. 


Pearl Buck's headstone at her home in Pennsylvania. She transformed her garden and landscaped it with bamboo and other native Asian plants to remind her of her faraway home.
Pearl's grave with her name Sai Zhenzhu in traditional characters.
I feel I’ve had a personal connection with Pearl and that somehow she has eluded me throughout my life. How is it that I feel this deep sense of connection and awe for a person who died two years before I was even born? Initially it was only her novel and words that moved and captivated me. I gradually started to learn more about the life and who the person was who wrote the book I have always loved.  Having just finished her biography, it now makes sense to me why I unsuspectingly had admiration for her and felt a connection. Certain strange and unexpected coincidences in her life happen to cross paths with my own. Imagine my surprise two weeks before moving to China in 2010 when I accidentally drove by Pearl Buck’s home in Buck County, Pennsylvania near where my sister Rachel lives. The next day, I dragged Rachel there with me. We paid our respects to her at her grave and also learned in a talk that Pearl taught at a university in Nanjing, China which was where I too would soon be moving to teach at a university. Here in Nanjing, I have tried to discover a little of Pearl’s China. I know that I am living here an entire century later, but I believe the whirlwind changes taking place here now may be similar to the search for identity and its place in the world that China was seeking to find during Pearl’s time. During a transition point in my life, China has comforted me and provided me with a never ending source of eye-opening perspectives and discoveries. Here in China I have developed into a confident educator who reaps much satisfaction from sharing and exchanging experiences with my young Chinese adult students. I like to think these are parallel to experiences Pearl had. 

This past month, I finally crossed a big item on my must-see Pearl Buck homage list. With the company of a friend, I finally visited Zhenjiang, the hometown in China of Pearl Sydenstricker. The trip was two years in the making. Several times over the past two years, busy schedules got in the way of my pilgrimage to Zhenjiang. Only 20 minutes away by high speed train from Nanjing, I was running out of excuses not to visit Zhenjiang and knew I was just going to have to make the time.  


Exploring the network of alleys in Zhenjiang.
Pearl’s home in Zhenjiang is now one of the major tourist attractions of the city. It was renovated and opened by the local Zhenjiang government in 1992. I later learned that the home that I visited was not actually her childhood home but the home where her parents resided after Pearl had grown up, married and moved to Anhui Province with her husband Lossing Buck. Nevertheless, it seems that the local tourism board of Zhenjiang and the museum really took pains to preserve the home to its true, original state as well as to bring to life the world Pearl lived in as girl and adolescent.  As such, they have wonderfully memorialized and paid homage to their Sai Zhenzhu, Pearl’s name in Chinese. Only a five minute walk from the train station in Zhenjiang, a large road sign indicates to tourists and Pearl Buck enthusiasts the proximity of the residence. Tucked back on a hill, we had to poke around on little side streets and alleys before we located her home. This part I appreciated as we got to experience the everyday hubbub of local Zhenjiang citizens. Dogs were running around, motorbikes were skirting up the side streets, locals were playing cards and the strong aroma of vinegar wafted in the air (Zhenjiang is apparently famous across China for its vinegar).  This gave me a sense of how life may have been around the Sydenstricker’s home as Pearl herself experienced it back in the day.  

At last finding the Sydenstricker's home.
Pearl's childhood bedroom
Walking into the Sydenstricker’s home, I was transformed to another time. The home is just as much a tribute to Pearl’s parents and other people who shaped her formative years as it is to Pearl herself. On the lower level of the house, I entered the dining room where the dinner table was set with fake plastic dishes of cooked chicken fillets, cheese and other American dishes that Pearl’s mother Carrie favored. Also on the lower level of the house was Wang Amah’s room. Part of the family for many years, Wang Amah was the Sydenstricker’s housekeeper and the children’s ayi or nanny.  I found it fitting that Wang Amah’s room had a prominent part in the house so visitors could understand that she likely also had an influential role in Pearl’s upbringing, shaping of her identity and worldviews and her lifelong love and attachment to China as her home.  After viewing Wang Amah’s room, I wandered upstairs to Pearl’s parents’ modest room. Her father Absalom’s bible prominently sat in a corner of a night side table in their room and a separate adjacent room has been turned into his study. After pausing in her parents’ wing of the house, I finally wandered over to the wing of the house that had been dedicated to Pearl herself. Her writing desk where she likely penned many of her literary works was right there for me to touch and try to absorb her thoughts. Finding myself at the foot of her bed, it was a surreal moment as if I was looking down at a little girl from 115 years before who unknowingly would someday move and affect countless lives by eloquently sharing her unique experiences and world.

Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) played a major role economically during Pearl's lifetime.
Following a visit to Pearl’s home, we wandered around the city of Zhenjiang itself. Located on the south bank of the Yangtze River, I learned that Zhenjiang was not some backwater town where the Sydenstrickers took up post miles from any other foreigners. Because of its prominent position on the Yangtze River, its strategic location near Nanjing, and its easy access to Shanghai upstream, it garnered American and British interest as early as 1861. British and American consulates, the Asiatic Petroleum Company as well as Standard Oil all had vested interests in Zhenjiang. Today, tourists can wander through the cobbled streets of the old quarter peeking into the gate of the old British consulate which was rebuilt following its destruction by fire caused by an angry mob in 1889. Cafés and restaurants now checker this preserved part of the city. 


A reminder of Zhenjiang's and China's tense relationship with foreigners.
A coolie in Zhenjiang during the time of Pearl's childhood.
Sipping a coffee in an open-air café in the restored Jianyuan Gardens, I was bemused by the irony of countless tourists snapping a picture of the apparently rare sighting of a foreign tourist visiting the hometown of one of Zhenjiang’s most famous former residents. It is said as a little girl, Pearl herself was unaware of her difference from her Chinese brethren until she was about four and a half years old. Instructed to tuck in her blonde hair into a cap, she was told that only black hair and eyes were normal. Feeling slightly uncomfortable myself with being the subject of several random strangers’ photographs, I then imagined what a frightful and crazy scene it must have been for locals back in the 1890’s when a little blonde haired, blue eyed, pale skinned apparition effortlessly spoke flawless, local Zhenjiang dialect. I suppose the feeling of “otherness” and being a waiguoren, or a foreigner, was a feeling Pearl Buck must have struggled with throughout her formative years growing up in China. Or did she? Maybe she didn’t blame any of her Chinese brethren for seeing her differently. She understood that China was going through a transformation throughout her years there and also likely understood the mixed feelings and curiosity many Chinese felt towards foreigners. Intimately understanding the Chinese experience and mindset, Pearl Buck was in a unique position to help foreigners new to China understand Chinese perspectives. It was ultimately this gift that is forever memorialized in her writing. 

Sometimes my Chinese students ask me to recommend English language novels for them to improve their vocabulary and to help them learn about American culture. Perhaps they find it strange when I recommend a novel from someone who wrote so intimately about their own part of the world. I think younger Chinese readers will especially be touched by the careful, detailed and loving portrayal of different aspects of Chinese life from before their time.  What a wonderful gift Pearl Buck’s writing and legacy have left not only to readers from outside of China, but to China itself.

Some of today's locals from Zhenjiang. These boys followed us in the late afternoon until we reached the Peal Buck Museum. As they wandered into the museum, they curiously looked at the pictures, clothing and writings of a young Pearl Buck.

Pearl Buck places to visit:
In China:
Pearl S. Buck Former Residence and the Pearl S. Buck Museum
6 Runzhou Shan Lu, Zhenjiang
The museum is located right next to the residence. Both the residence and the museum are free of charge. Visiting hours of both attractions are 9 am- 11:30 and 1:30-5.

Pearl S Buck Memorial House
Nanjing University, Nanjing
Nanjing University recently turned Pearl Buck’s home during her years in Nanjing into a memorial. Pearl lived with her husband and two daughters in Nanjing from 1920 – 1933. She taught English literature at both Nanjing University and the National Central University (which is now Southeast University in Nanjing). I have yet to find and visit this location but shall update with any information I find!

Pearl S. Buck Summer Villa
Lu Shan or Mount Lu
Pearl, her siblings and her parents spent many summers on Mount Lu to escape the oppressive heat in Zhenjiang at the summer villa Pearl’s father built in northern Jianxi Province. It is apparently at this summer residence where Pearl penned The Good Earth.

In the US:
Pearl S. Buck Residence
520 Dublin Road, Perkasie, PA 18944
In Bucks County outside of Philadelphia, this is where Pearl Buck resided with her second husband Richard Walsh and with their growing family of adopted children from 1935 until her death in 1973. Here you can visit her grave, tour the home and also learn about her work in starting the first international, interracial adoption agency and in advocating for an end to discrimination and poverty of children from Asian countries.  

The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace
U.S. 219
Hillsboro, West Virginia 24946
Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in the hills of Appalachian Mountain, Pearl moved to China at the age of three months in 1892. 

For Further Reading:

If you can’t visit any of the Pearl Buck residences, enjoy these books.
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
First published in 1931, this book then went on to get Pearl Buck both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Although the Good Earth itself is probably Pearl Buck’s most famous novel, it is the first of a trilogy. The other two volumes in the trilogy include Sons and A House Divided. This is a good place to start with her literature. 

Published in 2010, this biography of Pearl Buck gives intimate details about Pearl Buck’s life in China as well as her complex relationship with the country following her return to the US and in the following decades.

Coming of age during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese author Anchee Min was instructed to denounce Pearl Buck in school in the late 1960’s. Years later after having moved to the US and after being a published author herself, Min finally read a copy of The Good Earth. Moved by Pearl Buck’s intimate portrayal of the peasant experience in China, Min set out to visit Pearl’s hometown and get first-hand accounts of Pearl and her life in Zhenjiang. What came out from it was this novel which is a fictionalized account of Pearl Buck’s life from the perspective of her childhood and lifelong friend.