The Literature, Life & Philanthropic Spirit of Pearl S. Buck, and Bucheon
“Korea is a gem of a country inhabited by a noble people.”
This is how Pearl S. Buck described Korea in a scene depicting the country in the introduction of a novel published after she had already become the first female author to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.
The Living Reed became a bestseller immediately upon its release in 1963. The New York Times described it as “Her greatest masterpiece since the Nobel Prizewinning novel .” The book follows a family across four generations through the late Joseon Dynasty up until Korea’s liberation from Japanese occupation, and has been praised as ‘a gift of love from Pearl Buck to Korea.’
When Buck first came to Korea at the invitation of her friend HO Miri, the wife of Yuhan Corporation founder YU Ilhan New, she was appalled by the grim living conditions facing mixed race children in Korea, and founded the Sosa Opportunity Center in Simgok-dong, Bucheon in 1967. The center was equipped with rehabilitation and classroom facilities, as well as a medical center, canteen and orchard. YU Ilhan donated the 33,000 square meter plot of land where the center was built. By the time Buck passed away in 1973, the Sosa Opportunity Center had provided welfare and care to more than 2,000 war orphans and mixed race children, and some famous singers including Insooni, YOON Sooil and PARK Il-joon grew up there.
Buck wrote two novels set in Korea. (1963) tells the story of the people’s struggle after the Korean War, while (1968) focuses on the lives of mixed race children in Korea. The Korean chapter of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, a welfare center for children from multicultural families, was established in 1965, and Buck personally visited the center in Bucheon. During her time in Korea, Buck was given the Korean name ‘CHOI Jin-ju.’
(CHOI Jin-ju is the name written on the honorary citizenship granted to Buck by Seoul City in 1968.
Buck has another Korean name of PARK Jin-ju. The name Park Jin-ju was also used in , an essay written by professor CHANG Young-hee among early records at the Pearl S. Buck Memorial Hall.
JANG Wang-rok, who translated 20 of Buck’s works into Korean and was a personal friend of hers, recounted the following conversation from when he met her at the New Korea Hotel during one of her visits to Korea.
“I like the fact that Korean women retain their own name instead of taking their husband’s name after getting married like in the West and Japan.”
“Since we are talking about names, there is actually a Korean surname that sounds similar to ‘Peol Beok,’ the Korean pronunciation of your name. It’s pronounced ‘Park.’”
“Oh, I see. In that case then just call me Peol Beok. I like that,” she said with a friendly smile.)
Buck was tearful when she left the Sosa Opportunity Center, saying that she would “miss all the Korean children.” In her will, Buck wrote “after America, the country I love the most is Korea.” Although Buck enjoyed an outstanding career as a female author, it was her time in Korea as a social worker that demonstrated her deep affection for humanity. Buck adopted eight children of her own, and dedicated her life to sharing the story of children who were suffering because of the circumstances of their birth, and fighting against the social injustice and prejudice that they faced.
* supplementary reference: http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/search/node?f=on&keys=+Pearl+S.+Buck