Places: Dragon Seed

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1942

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1937-1940

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedVillage

Village. Dragon SeedUnnamed Chinese village west of a great city, in which the novel is set. The village has only one main street and a population of fewer than one hundred people, which suggests that it contains perhaps fifteen to twenty households. The village has one teahouse and several households that maintain small shops as a sideline activity. Except for those working in the shops, the inhabitants are farmers. Ling Tan has several male relatives in the village, but it is unclear if his family lineage is dominant. The novel mentions no temples, schools, or lineage halls in the village. The village is close enough to the great city for its residents to see the city walls and to walk there and return in one day. All the village families give some support to the anti-Japanese resistance.

Ling Tan’s house

Ling Tan’s house. Home of a village family headed by its patriarch, Ling Tan. The family includes five children, three boys and two girls. Ling Tan is a simple farmer who is happy to see his family well provided for through their collective labor. He owns a few cattle, pigs, and chickens. As in Pearl Buck’s other novels, The Dragon Seed emphasizes her protagonists’ deep attachment to their home and fields. The ten members of the Ling family live in a substantial eight-room house surrounded by a wall and secured by a strong gate.

At first, the Ling family members are not harmed as the nearby city falls to the Japanese. Then the invading troops move west and loot Ling Tan’s house, wantonly destroying most of the family’s possessions, raping and then murdering an elderly woman relative. One of Ling Tan’s sons goes west with the retreating Nationalist government but returns. Another becomes a guerrilla leader based in a Buddhist temple in the hills east of the city. Except for the youngest daughter, who flees west to live in a relocated missionary school, all surviving family members gather regularly in their home and village. Although outwardly complying with the Japanese orders, the Ling family turns their home into a site where information and arms are gathered for retaliatory attacks on the Japanese.


*Nanking. Capital city of the Republic of China from 1928 to 1937, during which period its population grew from 250,000 to around 1,000,000. Nanking is not mentioned by name in the novel; however, the novel’s unnamed big city matches Nanking’s description and historical circumstances. Buck lived in Nanking on the grounds of the Jinling University compound within Nanking’s walls from 1921 to 1934 and clearly built her descriptions of the city in the novel from the Nanking she knew. Some action occurs in Nanking, especially in a walled Christian compound where women of the family fled in fear of Japanese troops. Other action in Nanking involves a merchant son-in-law who collaborates with the Japanese.

Bibliography“Bloody Ballet.” Review of Dragon Seed, by Pearl S. Buck. Time, January 26, 1942, 80, 82. Calls the novel the “strongest . . . most instructive story” about China during World War II, but criticizes the latter pages as artistically weak.Buck, Pearl S. My Several Worlds. New York: John Day, 1954. Buck’s autobiography describes vividly her years in China and the impact these experiences had upon her life and work. Discusses her progressive ideas on social issues.Buck, Pearl S. The Story of “Dragon Seed.” New York: John Day, 1944. This monograph explains how the author came to write the novel. Describes her personal contact with Chinese farming families living near Nanking and her learning of “the horrors of the Japanese invasion.”Cavasco, G. A. “Pearl Buck and the Chinese Novel.” Asian Studies 5 (1967): 437-450. Praises Buck’s Chinese fiction, dividing her work into three categories. Argues that her novels about China are her best work and that they will always be popular because they adhere to the structure of Chinese fiction.Doyle, Paul A. Pearl S. Buck. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Analyzes the plot of Dragon Seed to show why the novel is not considered “an artistic success.” Compares the work to The Good Earth.
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