Kang Liao

Date of Graduation


Document Type



Pearl Buck was the first American woman writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature. However, she has been largely neglected by American critics since 1940. She was severely criticized in China in the 30s and 60s. Was she overestimated at first? Did she misrepresent China? What are the main values of her literary works? Are they still valuable today? This dissertation applies the reception theory to analyzing the reasons of her early and the ensuing neglect of her works by the critics, historicizes the significance of her function in changing the American image of the Chinese people, uses the multicultural approach to evaluate some of her novels and two biographies, and discusses her pioneering role in writing about the Chinese peasants. This study indicates that the social, historical, and cultural values of Pearl Buck's literary works exceed their aesthetic value. The portrayal of the Chinese people in her novels of the 1930s considerably improved the image of the Chinese people in the American mind. The improvement helped to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act and to obtain the American people's support for China's war of resistance against the Japanese invasion. She evaluated the Christian missions in China by illustrating the noble and heroic efforts of some individual missionaries but demonstrated the follies and impossibilities of the whole movement through the two biographies. She also suggested what China really needed, how China could be helped, and what the West can learn from China in her novels of the late 1940s. The cultural value of her works can be better appreciated in this age of multiculturalism than her age of Eurocentralism. For this reason along with her apolitical description of the Chinese peasants' life, Pearl Buck is undergoing a revival and exerting a greater influence in China. Nevertheless, the lack of modernism and the superfluous romances in some of her realistic novels reduce their artistry, and it is also because of her strong sense of mission to promote understanding between the East and West that some of her novels suffer from didacticism and some characters in them fall into types.