The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2022

88 JULY-AUGUST 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Beatrice Camp’s Foreign Service career took her to China, Thailand, Sweden and Hungary, in addition to assignments at the department and at the Smithso- nian Institution in Washington, D.C. She is the editor of American Diplomacy . The opinions and characterizations in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent official positions of the U.S. government. E arly in my assignment as consul general to Shanghai, I was invited to speak at the 70th anniversary of Pearl Buck receiving the Nobel Prize for literature. The conference took place in Zhenjiang, where Buck grew up with her missionary parents, Caroline and Absalom Sydenstricker. Aware that Pearl Buck came from the type of missionary background that was denounced by the Chinese Communist Party, I was surprised by the invitation. During my first assignment in Beijing 25 years earlier, this kind of recognition would have been unthinkable. I knew that Buck was not welcome in China for many years. Her request for a visa after President Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 trip was denied on the grounds, as stated in the rejection note, that her works took “an attitude of distor- tion, smear and vilification towards the people of new China and its leaders.” After her departure in 1934, Buck never again set foot in China. As historian Jonathan Spence wrote in 2010 in the New York Review of Books : “Her views were not welcome in China: both Chinese nationalist politicians and intellectuals and the Communist forces dug in against the nationalists in the northwest of China objected Pearl Buck’s Rehabilitation in China BY BEATR I CE CAMP violently to her vision of their country as backward, dirty, and demoralized. (The Chinese delegates invited to attend the 1938 Nobel celebrations boycotted the proceedings.)” Buck lived in Zhenjiang, a city in Jiangsu province, until she was 18. The city at that time was a bustling treaty port at the junction of the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal, with a British concession. Zhen- jiang is still one of China’s busiest ports for domestic commerce and famous for its black vinegar, which I learned to praise at every banquet during my visit there. By 2008, more than 30 years after her death, Pearl Buck was back in favor in China, where she was now highly regarded—as a bridge between cultures and, possi- bly, a way to attract tourists. Zhenji- ang embraced its long-ago resident as Buck moved from persona non grata during the Mao years to reha- bilitated celebrity in the 21st century. Meanwhile, Americans had lost interest, with many scorning Buck’s mass-market appeal. Spence quotes literary historian Peter Conn’s observa- tion: “Pearl’s Asian subjects, her prose style, her gender, and her tremendous popularity offended virtually every one of the constituencies that divided up the lit- erary 1930s. Marxists, Agrarians, Chicago journalists, New York intellectuals, liter- REFLECTIONS A portrait of Pearl S. Buck, circa 1932. LIBRARYOFCONGRESS Zhenjiang embraced its long-ago resident as Buck moved from persona non grata during the Mao years to rehabilitated celebrity in the 21st century.