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Duty First: Pearl S. Buck’s Views on Japan

 Duty First:  Pearl S. Buck’s Views on Japan

Pearl Buck, a West Virginia author who focused most of her attention on China, wrote several works pertaining to Japan between the 1930s and 1960s.  She interpreted Japan as nearly the mirror opposite of China, which meant in part that she saw Japan as valuing duty over individual freedom.  She linked the Japanese emphasis on duty to Japan’s harsh island geography.  In her wartime essays on Japan, she stressed that Japan should not be underestimated, while in her novels she portrayed major Japanese female characters as simultaneously tough, level-headed, and emotional.  Her work sought to dispel stereotypes of Japanese as imitative and cruel, even as it tended to downplay the changes that Japan has undergone.


Dr. David B. Gordon is a professor of Asian History at Shepherd University specializing in early 20th-century Japanese thought.  In 2010 he published the book Sun Yatsen: Seeking a Newer China with Pearson Prentice Hall.  He subsequently wrote an essay about Pearl Buck’s views of Sun Yatsen, a Chinese revolutionary, that will appear shortly in an edited collection titled Beyond The Good Earth: Transnational Perspectives on Pearl S. Buck (West Virginia University Press)In August, he gave a lecture pertaining to Pearl Buck’s assessments of Japan at an academic conference in Seoul, South Korea.  Dr. Gordon received a bachelor’s degree in Asian cultures from Indiana Uni­versity (1989) and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Hawaii (1997).  He has been a member of the Department of History at Shepherd since 2000.