Pearl S. Buck

June 26

Pearl S. Buck (1892)

It was on this date, June 26, 1892, that Pearl Sydenstricker, who would become known as American novelist Pearl S. Buck, was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia. The daughter of Presbyterian missionaries in China, Buck received her university education in the US, but returned to China in the mid-1910s to become a university instructor and writer. Naturally, her novels focused on life in China and the culture clash between East and West. This cultural perspective may have contributed to her pulling away from the faith of her father.

Buck's first novel, East Wind, West Wind, appeared in 1930. It was followed by The Good Earth in 1931, which won her the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces." In her later life, Buck was active in welfare organizations, setting up Welcome House, Inc., an agency for the adoption of Asian-American children. As she said, "I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and the angels. I have enough for this life."

Many of Buck's novels were translated to film: The Good Earth in 1937, Dragon Seed in 1944, China Sky in 1945, Satan Never Sleeps, based on The China Story, in 1962, and Pavilion of Women in 2001. In all her work it is evident that her ethic was totally humanist: "I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings," she said. Pearl Buck died on 6 March 1973 at the age of 80.

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Adolf Bastian

Adolf Bastian (1826)

Also born on this date, June 26, 1826, in Bremen, Germany, was the anthropologist and pioneer ethnologist Adolf Bastian. At the University of Heidelberg he studied law, then took up natural sciences and medicine in Berlin, Jena and Würzburg. He took a medical degree in Prague. As a ship's doctor he traveled to Australia, Peru, the West Indies, Mexico, China, the Malay archipelago, India and Africa. The result of his journeys was Der Mensch in der Geschichte (Man in History, 1860), a study in which he proposed a theory of cultural evolution which anticipates, and may have sparked, Carl Jung's idea of the collective unconscious.

Bastian noticed certain Elementargedanken, or "elementary ideas," which appeared in almost all cultures and religions of the world. Bastian concluded that all humans must have the same basic mental processes, and that this conformity of psychology produced similar responses, in different cultures, to similar stimuli, modified only by Volkergedanken or "folk ideas." His theory was why Bastian has been labeled the father of ethnography. He also wrote on Buddhism, and on psychological dilemmas present in native superstitions.

His three-volume Man in History is shot through with passages testifying to Bastian's Agnosticism. Speaking of science as foe and God as protector, in volume one he says, "we no longer fear when a mighty foe shakes our protector from his heaven, to sink with him into an abyss of annihilation." Ever the explorer, Adolf Bastian died, while on a return voyage, in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 2 September 1905, age 79.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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