Authors: Bette Bao Lord

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Chinese-born American novelist

Identity: Chinese American

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Spring Moon: A Novel of China, 1981

The Middle Heart, 1996

Nonfiction:

Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl’s Life in Communist China, 1964 (with Sansan Bao)

Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic, 1990

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, 1984

Biography

In her life and her work, Bette Bao Lord, who was born in Shanghai and raised in the United States, provides a bridge between traditional Chinese and modern American culture. Her mother’s family included prominent intellectuals and professionals, and her father, Sandys Bao, was an engineer who had been educated both in China and England and was a member of the Nationalist Chinese government.{$I[AN]9810001748}{$I[A]Lord, Bette Bao}{$S[A]Bao Lord, Bette;Lord, Bette Bao}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Lord, Bette Bao}{$I[geo]CHINA;Lord, Bette Bao}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Lord, Bette Bao}{$I[geo]ASIAN AMERICAN/ASIAN DESCENT;Lord, Bette Bao}{$I[tim]1938;Lord, Bette Bao}

In 1946, Sandys Bao was sent by his government to New York. Later that year, he was given permission to bring his wife and two eldest daughters, Bette, who was then eight years old, and Cathy, who was four. The youngest daughter, Sansan, who was still an infant, remained with an aunt in China. After Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, the Bao family was unable to return to mainland China and to the rest of their family.

During the first years in the United States, the family lived in Brooklyn. The children initially experienced difficulties moving between the Chinese traditions at home and the American milieu, but they adapted quickly. Because education was important to the family, they moved to East Patterson and then Teaneck, New Jersey, for the superior school systems. Lord did well in school and eventually attended Tufts University and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she met her future husband, Winston Lord.

When travel restrictions in China became more relaxed, the Baos were able to bring the youngest daughter, Sansan, to Hong Kong, where she was reunited with her family on August 18, 1962. Later that same year, Bette Bao married Winston Lord.

Lord began her writing career by chance after discussing her sister’s story with a publisher at a reception. He saw the potential in an inside account of events in China during the Communist period told through the eyes of a young person. When Lord was unable to find a Chinese translator to work with her sister, she decided to take on the project herself. She translated Sansan’s narrative and added passages of her own. After many revisions, Lord finally completed Eighth Moon, which was published in 1964, the same year her first child, Elizabeth Pillsbury Lord, was born. The book was a popular success, providing Westerners with one of the clearest pictures of an individual’s life in China during the 1950’s and early 1960’s; the book was subsequently translated into fifteen languages.

At about this time, Winston Lord began his diplomatic career. He worked in the State Department and helped Henry Kissinger organize President Richard Nixon’s historic visit with Mao Zedong, becoming one of the first Westerners to visit China in approximately thirty years. In 1973, Lord joined her husband on a trip to China. This gave her an opportunity to meet relatives she had not seen since she was eight years old. Originally she had agreed to write a factual account of this visit for Harper and Row, but, worried about the possible repercussions for her relatives, she decided to write a fictionalized account instead, which became the novel Spring Moon.

This work, a saga of the House of Chang, begins as the Manchu Empire falls and continues through the Cultural Revolution. In the course of tracing the life of her heroine, Spring Moon, Bao presents China’s history and cultural heritage. In this work, as in her first, she stresses the importance of family and tradition, once again providing Westerners with an unusual inside view into contemporary Chinese history.

Two years later, Lord published a children’s novel, The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. The story tells of an eight-year-old girl very much like herself, who moves with her family from China to Brooklyn. Lord describes the girl’s difficulties in assimilating and the ways in which she eventually learns to blend both cultures and to accept the strengths of each. As the title indicates, the girl ultimately manages to enjoy both the year of the Boar and the triumphs of Jackie Robinson.

In 1985, Winston Lord was appointed United States’ ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. For the next four years, the family lived in Beijing. Bette Bao Lord was able to renew contact with many relatives and friends, and she made the embassy into a place of intellectual exchange. During this time, she amassed a collection of stories, which she retells in Legacies; the book includes stories drawn from her own life and those of her family, as well as from interviews with those who lived through the Cultural Revolution.

The Lords left China in 1989, shortly before political unrest led to the student protests in Tiananmen Square. Bette Bao Lord returned to China to cover the demonstrations for CBS News, but the crew returned to the United States shortly before the massacre began on June 3. Her next novel, The Middle Heart, reflecting that experience, traces the lives of three friends from the China of the 1930’s through the Tiananmen revolt. In this novel, as in all her work, Lord seeks to facilitate greater understanding between two cultures.

BibliographyBatov, Roni. “Living in Two Cultures: Bette Bao Lord’s Stories of Chinese-American Experience.” The Lion and the Unicorn 11, no. 1 (April, 1987). Lord’s use of two cultures is discussed.Fox, Mary Virginia. Bette Bao Lord: Novelist and Chinese Voice for Change. Chicago: Children’s Press, 1993. The first book-length biography of Lord; although it is designed for younger readers, it is an informative source.Lord, Bette Bao. “China Doll.” New York 19 (May 12, 1986): 50-51. In this article, Lord discusses her childhood in America, her children’s book, and her life as the wife of the U.S. ambassador to China. Illuminates the personality of the author.Lord, Bette Bao. Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. This autobiographical work is a good source of insights into the author’s life and into the two cultures she represents.McMurran, Kristin. “Winston Lord May Be an Old China Hand but Wife Bette Wrote the Book on Mandarins.” People Weekly 220 (November 23, 1981): 90, 93-94. This article provides biographical information about Lord and her husband and useful information about the genesis of Spring Moon.Madden, Kathleen. “Bette Bao Lord: A Wife, Mother Writes Her Own Text.” Vogue 172 (February, 1982): 182. Discusses Lord’s career as an author from a feminist perspective. Lord’s comments on Chinese women illuminate the characters in Spring Moon. For example, Lord states that the role of women in Chinese society has been “revolutionized,” but not “necessarily liberated.”Walter, Virginia A. “Crossing the Pacific to America: The Use of Narrative.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 16, no. 2 (Summer, 1991). Lord’s use of two cultures is discussed.
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