Over the summer I read Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck. Of all of her books the one that I love most is Pavilion of Women, it is a beautiful love story filled with artful imagery and poignant tenderness.
Dragon Seed is, at its face a simple tale, of the innocence of people who are uneducated and living life close to the land. Written in Buck’s usual spare style, its a graphic tale of an unprepared country quickly overrun by an unbelievably brutal enemy; it’s people left to fend for themselves. It portrays the provincial life where the family unit is the main obligation, loyalty and honor at the center of every day life.
Extended family works side by side, the mother submits to the father as head of the house, but she rules the roost in all domestic situations and has great influence on more important decisions as well.
As the book begins the Tan family is hard at work on the family farm raising crops, livestock to provide for all their needs. The 3 sons work side by side with the father, their wives work within the confines of the family compound and raise their children, all under the watchful eye of the family matriarch. They put aside all they need to see them through the winter, and sell at market to purchase goods they can not produce on their own. They fish their pond and raise their hogs, spin yarn into fabric, and raise chickens for meat and eggs.
When the Japanese invade the country, the “near east ocean people” as they are referred to through out the book; the Chinese people residing in the country side are so naive that they stand in awe at the “silver flying ships” dropping “silver eggs” down on the land. They are so surprised that the first “silver egg” they witness, carved out a gaping hole in the earth, that they congratulate the property owner on the new space he will have for a pond! They have no inkling of bombs and the devastation to follow.
They soon realize that their lives will never be the same. Each family member is changed dramatically by either what they experience: rape, arson, beating, starvation…..or by what they witness. The very fabric of their moral being is unraveled and is at war as well.
Their values and morays are completely exchanged in order to survive. Faced with an enemy so fierce they find that they can rise to the occasion and plot and kill just as effectively when challenged. Hiding, lying, secreting become second nature to people who had never knew what war even was.
In a paltry attempt to placate the enemy when it arrives on their doorstep the town’s men turn out with flags and tea cakes, welcoming the enemy. They dress in their finest robes and their most scholarly town’s elder is at the head of the parade. The men mistakenly assume that if they turn their loyalty over the the new comers, it would be welcomed and respected.
But they soon discover, that hard world lesson- loyalty is never requited. It is always dashed and taken for granted. Assumed and then mocked. Seen as an entitlement. They are so shocked to see tanks roll up, and can not fathom at first what sort of enemy they have, “where are the men?” they wonder watching the tank wheels crush everything in their path.
Ling Tan soon realizes that the loyalty they held for their own rulers did nothing to advance them; turning their loyalty over to the new ruler won’t serve them in the least. He returns home and decides to pour all his efforts out into his original source of strength and affection-his land. His ties to his land span generations back to the dawn of time, and he resolves to not let anything come between retaining it for his own children.
“The earth is the one thing they cannot take back to that cursed country of theirs.” And yet as though the earth itself rebelled, the harvests shrank to half what they had once been. …
Pearl Buck, the daughter of missionaries living in China, again includes missionaries in this story who hide the women from the brutal enemy and even secret the family’s youngest daughter to a cave in the far mountains to keep her safe. Never once does the family call out to God, our creator for comfort or help. They believe in several gods, and neither expect any aide from them nor blame them. They do believe in heaven and the prospect of seeing loved ones there in the afterlife. “Heaven” they allow, is the source of much of what occurs on earth.
How sad that though the missionaries offer them refuge in our King Jesus, as well as physical safety, that their allegiance is to their land. How hard their true natures were quelled in the face of such danger and death. Each having to reconnoiter their way back to contentment with devastating war memories assaulting their peace.
The book chillingly records historical war facts contrasted with the every day life of simple people who live entirely for their family. They enemy sets up a puppet government and the country is expected to lay their loyalty at the new rulers feet. Soldiers roam the conquered land looking for infractions to the rules they make up everyday. Making thinly veiled threats and yet not seeing the truth going on all around them.
Through a slim contact within the government they learn the real truth of their new leaders and see the day to day deceit that ensues. Opium fields are cultivated in an effort to control the uprising of the population, a scourge that had once had it’s grip on the nation, and was once defeated, opium threatens the minds and welfare of the people once again.
The ensuing decimation and resulting endurance is a testament to those who refused to be controlled; though at what price?
We praise you for all the blessings we have. We humbly ask your continued protection for our nation. We can see through deed and word of those who have gone before us, that life can change in an instant. All it takes is the prideful preoccupation of a few and the enforcement of their greed, and all can be undone.
Open our eyes to the true calling of each of us. Show us the false ones who presume to gobble up our loyalties and proclaim themselves as deserving. When you alone are all that matters, and all we need. All else is nonsense.